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China’s president visits health centre as coronavirus death toll rises

The latest: 

  • Death toll in mainland China hits 1,016 as case numbers hit 42,638.
  • President Xi Jinping appears at health centre amid questions about handling of outbreak.
  • WHO chief warns of ‘very grave threat’ and calls for more research at opening of two-day summit of experts.
  • Second Canadian flight from China lands at CFB Trenton this morning with 185 passengers on board.
  • Top public health official says risk low in Canada, no immediate plan to change isolation rules.

China’s daily death toll from a new virus topped 100 for the first time and pushed the total past 1,000 dead, authorities said Tuesday after leader Xi Jinping visited a health centre to rally public morale amid little sign the contagion is abating.

Though more offices and stores in China were reopening after the extended Lunar New Year break, many people appear to be staying home. Public health authorities are closely monitoring whether workers’ returning to cities and businesses resuming worsens the spread of the virus.

In a bid to boost morale, Xi was featured on state broadcaster CCTV’s main news report Tuesday night visiting a community health centre in Beijing and expressing confidence in the “war against the disease.”

The country’s president and leader of the ruling Communist Party was shown wearing a surgical mask and having his temperature taken before expressing his thanks to health workers on behalf of the party and government. “We will most definitely win this people’s war,” Xi said.

Xi’s appearance comes amid questioning of the government’s handling of the crisis, particularly the failure of local officials in the worst-hit city of Wuhan to clarify the extent of the crisis.

WATCH | CBC’s Saša Petricic reports from Beijing, where the outbreak has led to an eerie emptiness:

CBC’s Sasa Petricic looks at how the coronavirus outbreak has brought an eerie emptiness to the normally jam-packed streets of Beijing and how people are responding. 2:11

Public anger has been inflamed over the death of a young doctor from the virus who had earlier been threatened along with seven others by police for warning online of the potential for a major outbreak as early as December.

The virus outbreak has become the latest political challenge for Xi, who despite accruing more political power for himself than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, has struggled to handle crises on multiple fronts, including a sharply slowing domestic economy, trade with the U.S. and push-back on China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policies.

WHO boss warns of ‘very grave threat’

As the number of deaths from the virus rose in China, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the outbreak poses a “very grave threat for the rest of the world.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was addressing the start of a two-day meeting aimed at accelerating development of drugs, diagnostics and vaccines against the flu-like virus amid growing concerns about its ability to spread.

“With 99 per cent of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” he told more than 400 researchers and national authorities, including some taking part by video conference from mainland China and Taiwan.

A staff member wearing a protective mask and suit works at a supermarket in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak of the coronavirus, in China’s central Hubei province. (AFP/Getty Images)

The National Health Commission said in its daily update that 108 deaths had been reported over the previous 24 hours, increasing the total to 1,016 deaths in mainland China since the illnesses began appearing in December. The total is well beyond the toll of the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which is caused by a different coronavirus related to the current pathogen.

The number of newly confirmed cases fell slightly to 2,478 from 3,062 the day before, bringing the total to 42,638 on the mainland. Some of the patients have since been cured and released from hospital.

The crossing of more grim thresholds is dimming optimism that the near-quarantine of some 60 million people and other disease-control measures might be working.

The coronavirus outbreak, which is centred in Wuhan, China, has caused concern around the world as experts struggle to learn more about the virus. A second Canadian charter flight carrying people who had been in Hubei province landed at CFB Trenton in Ontario Tuesday morning. The people on board the flight will spend 14 days living on the base under quarantine, as are the passengers who arrived on an earlier flight.

In Hong Kong, authorities partially evacuated an apartment block after two cases among its residents raised suspicion the virus may be spreading through the building’s plumbing.

It was reminiscent of the SARS outbreak that killed hundreds in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. The biggest number of connected cases in that outbreak were in one apartment complex where the virus spread through sewage pipes.

Britain, meanwhile, declared the virus a “serious and imminent threat to public health” and said it would forcibly detain infected people if necessary. France tested scores of children and their parents after five British tourists contracted the virus at a ski resort.

People wearing protective suits stand near the Cheung Hong Estate, a public housing estate, during an evacuation operation on Tuesday to halt the potential spread of the novel coronavirus after a few cases were detected there. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

The Beijing city government told residential compounds in the capital to close their gates, check visitors for fever and record their identities. The government also warned people to strictly abide by regulations requiring wearing of masks in public and to avoid group activities.

More than 440 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China, including two deaths in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Of those, 135 are from a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, near Tokyo. Japan’s Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the government was considering testing everyone remaining of the 3,711 passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess, which would require them to remain aboard until results were available.

Rebecca Frasure, one of the Diamond Princess passengers who tested positive for coronavirus, said she “was really dumbfounded” when she was diagnosed.

Fraser, who is from Oregon, is currently being monitored in a Tokyo hospital. She said she feels well and no longer has any symptoms.

“Basically, I’m just in isolation so as not to pass it along to anyone else,” she told CBC’s Heather Hiscox.

She’ll be tested again 14 days after her diagnosis. If the two required tests come back clear, she can be reunited with her husband, who is still living under quarantine aboard the cruise ship. 

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