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News Picture: New Coronavirus Infections in China Top SARS Total, as U.S Evacuates Americans

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 29, 2020 (HealthDay News) — As the case count in China’s new coronavirus outbreak eclipsed those reported in the 2003 SARS outbreak on Wednesday, the United States evacuated 200 Americans from the center of the epidemic.

Overnight, the number of cases of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus in China shot from 4,515 to 5,974, while the death toll climbed to 132. There were 5,327 cases and 348 deaths reported in China during the SARS outbreak, with more than 800 deaths reported worldwide, the Associated Press reported.

Late Tuesday night, a flight chartered by the U.S. State Department to evacuate American government workers and private citizens landed in Anchorage, Alaska. After refueling, it headed for the March Air Reserve Base near Riverside, Calif., according to CNN.

In Alaska, officials performed two health screenings; prior screenings had been conducted in China. All passengers were approved to continue on to California by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CNN reported, though they will get more health screenings in California.

As the new coronavirus continued to spread rapidly in China, a shortage of test kits continued in the city of Wuhan, where infections first appeared, The New York Times reported. That could mean the number of cases are being underreported at this point, health officials noted.

After first declining assistance from international health officials, Chinese authorities agreed on Tuesday to let expert teams coordinated by the World Health Organization to visit China to help stem the outbreak, The Times said.

While the latest case count for the 2019-nCoV virus is only five in the United States, the CDC issued a stronger travel warning Monday afternoon that urged all Americans to avoid any nonessential travel to all of China, not just Wuhan.

Earlier Monday, CDC officials gave the latest update on coronavirus cases in the United States.

“To date, we have 110 of what we call persons under investigation in 26 states. This is a cumulative number and will only increase,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the U.S. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a media briefing Monday morning. “We still have only five confirmed positive [cases] and 32 who have tested negative. We have screened around 2,400 people so far.”

“We understand that many people in the United States are worried about this virus and how it will effect Americans,” she added. “However, at this time in the U.S. this virus is not spreading in the community. For that reason, we continue to believe the immediate health risk from this new virus to the general American public is low at this time.”

In China, the situation is far more dire.

Ma Xiaowei, director of China’s National Health Commission, noted that people carrying the virus but not showing symptoms could still infect others. The incubation period can vary from one to 14 days, with a typical duration of about 10 days, he said.

The fact that people can carry the virus without showing symptoms makes containment especially difficult. This was not the case with the SARS coronavirus outbreak.

“The epidemic is now entering a more serious and complex period,” Ma said during a media briefing Monday in Beijing. “It looks like it will continue for some time, and the number of cases may increase.”

Still, Chinese health officials continued to try to contain the outbreak, expanding a travel ban to include more than 50 million people as part of the most extensive disease-control measures ever imposed, according to the AP.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong said it would bar entry to visitors from Hubei province, which is at the center of the outbreak, and travel agencies were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide.

And Shanghai, which has 25 million people and is a global business center, extended the Lunar New Year by an additional week within the city, to Feb. 9, and ordered sports stadiums and religious events closed, the AP reported.

Thailand has reported 14 cases of infection; Hong Kong has eight; the United States, Taiwan, Australia and Macau have five each; Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia each have reported four; Japan has seven; France has four; Canada has three; Vietnam has two; and Nepal, Cambodia, Germany and the United Arab Emirates each have one.

— Robert Preidt

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SOURCES: Jan. 27, 2020 media briefing with: Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director of the U.S. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Jan. 26, 2020; The New York Times; Associated Press; CNN