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WORLD | 01-02-2020 09:33

Government plays down coronavirus threat as death toll hits 212

More than 75,000 people – 10 times the official tally of confirmed cases – have been infected with the coronavirus in Wuhan, ground zero of a global health emergency, according to research published yesterday.

Local officials, however, continue to play down the risk for Argentines.

“We estimate that 75,815 individuals have been infected in Wuhan as of January 25, 2020,” a team led by Gabriel Leung from the University of Hong Kong reported in The Lancet.

As of January 31, the Chinese government said the number of confirmed cases had risen above 9,700 for all of China, including 213 deaths.

For Hubei Province – including Wuhan, a city in central China of 11 million – the official figure was nearly 6,000 confirmed cases and just over 200 deaths.

The World Health Organisation on Thursday declared the outbreak a global health emergency, but said it was not recommending any international trade or travel restrictions.

“The apparent discrepancy between our modelled estimates of 2019-nCoV infections and the actual number of confirmed cases in Wuhan could be due to several factors,” Leung said in a statement.

If the virus spreads as quickly on a national scale, “it is possible that epidemics could be already growing in multiple major Chinese cities, with a time lag of one to two weeks behind Wuhan,” said co-author Joseph Wu, a professor at the University of Hong Kong. “Large cities overseas with close transport links to China could potentially also become outbreak epicentres.”

If the new estimate of cases is accurate, it would mean that the mortality rate of the 2019-nCoV virus is significantly lower than preliminary figures suggested, with well under one percent of cases proving deadly. But a low mortality rate can still result in a large number of deaths if the virus spread widely.

Nonetheless, on Friday the US issued a rare federal quarantine order of 14 days for 195 US citizens who were evacuated from Wuhan. It came after one of the individuals tried to leave the California military base where the repatriated citizens landed on a chartered flight on Wednesday, and is the first directive of its kind in over 50 years.

RISK TO ARGENTINES

Health Minister Ginés González García held a press conference Thursday to calm fears among Argentines that the outbreak could spread to the country.

“We are in constant contact with the WHO. There are no cases in Argentina,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the cases are in China. Or [involve] people who have been to China.”

The national official assured that “there are no different circumstances” with respect to the country’s situation with respect to the virus.

“We took different measures, the first was to meet with a committee of experts,” he explained.

“We have prepared the laboratories to identify a possible case. There was a meeting with Immigration, Customs, the Foreign Ministry and agencies within airports,” Gonzalez Garcia added.

In relation to the number of infected, he mentioned that “there are 12 Argentines in Wuhan who are in quarantine and in other cities, we know that they are all well. We advise, if it is not imperative, not to travel to China,” he recommended.

The minister spoke before news emerged that some 7,000 tourists – including approximately 35 Argentines – were stranded on board a Costa cruise ship near the port of Civitavecchia, 80 kilometres from Rome, Italy, amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak.

According to ANSA, after the case was reported, specialists from Spallanzani hospital entered the ship and attended to a Chinese tourist with a feverish condition.

A woman identified as Gabriela, one of the people on the cruise-ship, spoke to the TN news channel on Thursday.

“We had to go to Rome for an excursion, and we were told that we were delayed because there were routine health controls,” explained the tourist from the cruise.

“The captain warned through loudspeakers that due to the coronavirus, they were going to make take more exhaustive controls than usual,” she added.

Among the passengers, there are 35 people of Argentine nationality, according to the nation’s consul in Rome, María Lucía Dougherty de Sánchez.

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