Coronavirus deaths rise as countries ramp up evacuation measures

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in China has risen to 170, with more than 7,700 confirmed cases within the country as heath authorities report that the virus has now reached every region in mainland China.

Further afield, there have also been cases in at least 15 other countries as of 29 January, including Japan, Australia, France, Germany and Hong Kong. Voluntary evacuation of hundreds of foreign nationals is taking place with several countries including the UK planning to quarantine all returning citizens for a fortnight as a precautionary measure.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) will shortly be sending international experts to visit China to work with counterparts on increasing understanding of the outbreak to guide global response efforts. “Stopping the spread of this virus both in China and globally is WHO’s highest priority,” said Dr Tedros, WHO director-general. “We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated, including sharing data and genetic sequence of the virus. WHO is working closely with the government on measures to understand the virus and limit transmission. WHO will keep working side-by-side with China and all other countries to protect health and keep people safe.”

In the short-term, businesses operating in China have scaled back their operations. Several airlines – including British Airways – have stopped flights to the country altogether, while major businesses including Starbucks and Ikea have closed their shops in the region. Technology giants Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook have all told staff not to travel to China for the foreseeable future.

The longer-term picture depends on how much the virus continues to spread. Experience of the 2003 Sars outbreak shows that economic growth can take a major hit from such incidents, with that particular outbreak contributing to a 2% fall in annual growth in China. Given the significance of the Chinese economy to global business, countries around the world will be watching developments closely from both a public health and economic viewpoint.

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