As the death toll in China’s coronavirus outbreak surpassed 100 on Tuesday, the United States expanded its travel alert and prepared to evacuate American government workers who are in the center of the epidemic.
Overnight, the number of cases of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus in China shot from 2,835 to 4,515, the New York Times reported. Of those cases, 976 are considered severe.
Even more troubling is news that there is a shortage of test kits in the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus infections first appeared, The Times reported. That could mean the number of cases are being underreported at this point, health officials noted.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong suspended high-speed rail service to mainland China and cut flights going there in half.
While the latest case count for the 2019-nCoV virus is only five in the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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.
The Lunar New Year is the busiest travel season and officials there said the end of the holiday had been pushed back to “reduce mass gatherings” and “block the spread of the epidemic,” the Associated Press reported.
Whether such measures will be enough remains to be seen after a high-ranking Chinese health official warned on Sunday that the already rapid spread of the new coronavirus could accelerate even further, The Times reported.
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 SARS, another coronavirus that killed 800 people in China and other countries in 2002-03.
“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 17 cities with 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.
Meanwhile, cases have cropped up in many other countries. Thailand has reported 14 cases of infection; Hong Kong has eight; the United States, Taiwan, Australia and Macau have five each; Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia each have reported four; France has three; Canada and Vietnam have two; and Nepal, Cambodia and Germany each have one. There have been no deaths outside China.
In the United States, two new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in Arizona and California over the weekend, bringing the total number of cases in the United States to five, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Sunday.
The two new cases involve people who recently returned to the United States from Wuhan.
It’s likely that more cases will be reported in the United States in the coming days and weeks, and that these cases are likely to include person-to-person transmission of the virus, the CDC noted.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we are still in the early days of the investigation — both domestically and abroad. CDC continues to monitor the international situation with our teams on the ground in affected countries, as well as domestically in the four states with confirmed cases — Arizona, California, Illinois and Washington,” the CDC said in a news release.
The agency added that it’s following “an aggressive public health response strategy and working closely with state and local public health authorities to identify potential cases early and make sure patients get the best and most appropriate care.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.