Canadian physician leading WHO team going to China, where coronavirus death toll tops 900

An advance team of international experts led by the World Health Organization (WHO) left for Beijing to help investigate the coronavirus epidemic in China, which authorities said has now claimed 908 lives on the mainland.

The outbreak has caused huge disruptions in China with usually teeming cities becoming virtual ghost towns during the past two weeks as Communist Party rulers ordered virtual lockdowns, cancelled flights, closed factories and shut schools.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who made a trip to Beijing for talks with President Xi Jinping and Chinese ministers in late January, returned with an agreement on sending an international mission.

But it has taken nearly two weeks to get the government’s green light on its composition, which was not announced, other than to say that WHO veteran Dr. Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist and emergencies expert, was heading it.

Bruce Aylward speaks during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in July 2016. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP)

The WHO declared the outbreak a global emergency on Jan. 30, days after the Chinese central government imposed a lockdown on 60 million people in Hubei province and its capital Wuhan, epicentre of the virus that emerged in December in a seafood market.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China rose by 97 to 908 as of the end of Sunday, the National Health Commission (NHC) said on Monday.

Across mainland China, there were 3,062 new confirmed infections on Sunday, bringing the total number so far to 40,171.

Watch: Montreal woman on life in Wuhan

Felicity Feng, a Montreal woman visiting her parents in Wuhan over the Lunar New Year holiday, was caught up in the coronavirus outbreak. 5:09

There are currently seven cases of coronavirus in Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Two deaths have been reported outside mainland China — both of them Chinese nationals.

The latest patients outside China include a group of British nationals staying in a mountain village in Haute-Savoie in the Alps, French health officials said, raising fears of further infections across Europe.

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