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The United States has sent nearly 17.8 tons of medical supplies to China, including masks, gowns and respirators, a State Department official said.

An American became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the new coronavirus on Saturday while a Japanese man also died with symptoms consistent with the disease, as the epidemic looked set to pass the death toll from the SARS pandemic in rapid time.

The 60-year old U.S. citizen diagnosed with coronavirus died at Jinyintan Hospital in China’s Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak, on Feb. 6, a U.S. embassy spokesman in Beijing said.

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“We offer our sincerest condolences to the family on their loss,” the spokesman told Reuters. “Out of the respect for the family’s privacy, we have no further comment.” A Japanese man hospitalised with pneumonia in Wuhan also died after suffering flu-like symptoms consistent with the new coronavirus, Japan’s foreign ministry said.

The man in his sixties was suspected of having been infected with the coronavirus but due to difficulties in diagnosing the disease the cause of death was given as viral pneumonia, the ministry said citing Chinese medical authorities. As of noon on Thursday, 17 foreigners were being quarantined and treated for the disease in China, according to government figures. No updated figures were immediately available.

The total death toll in mainland China rose by 86 to 722 on Saturday, according to Chinese authorities, and is poised to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that jumped from animals to humans in China.

During the SARS outbreak between November 2002 and July 2003, the number of reported cases was 8,098, suggesting a far lower transmission rate than the latest coronavirus, but a higher mortality rate.

So far only two deaths have been reported outside mainland China – in Hong Kong and the Philippines – from about 332 cases in 27 countries and regions. Both of those victims were Chinese nationals.

“It is hard to say how lethal this novel coronavirus infection is,” Professor Allen Cheng, an infectious diseases expert at Monash University in Melbourne, told Reuters.

“While the crude mortality appears to be around 2%, there are likely to be many people who have been infected that haven’t been tested … We probably won’t know the true case fatality for some time yet.”

Hubei officials on Saturday reported 81 new deaths, 67 of those in Wuhan, a city under virtual lockdown. Across mainland China, excluding the 2,050 people who had recovered and those who had died, the number of outstanding cases stood at 31,774.

Beijing’s communist leadership has sealed off cities, cancelled flights and closed factories to contain the epidemic, with ripple effects for global markets and businesses dependent on the world’s second-biggest economy.

Saturday marked the final day of the Lunar New Year celebrations, usually characterised by family gatherings, fireworks, riddle-guessing and the lighting of lanterns.

This year, most people were eating dumplings, a traditional custom, at home alone. On national television a gala show will feature recitation of poems on counter-virus efforts instead of the usual music and dancing.

News of the death on Friday of Li Wenliang, a doctor who raised the alarm about the new coronavirus, sorrow and outrage on Chinese social media and rekindled memories of how Beijing was slow to tell the world about the SARS outbreak.

Li, who succumbed to the disease in a Wuhan hospital, was among eight people reprimanded by police in the city for spreading “illegal and false” information after he shared details of the virus with colleagues.

PANIC BUYING

Hong Kong was introducing on Saturday quarantine for two weeks for all people arriving from the mainland, or who have been there during the last 14 days.
Matthew Cheung, chief secretary for administration, said that Hong Kong people returning from the mainland must stay home for a fortnight or risk a HK$25,000 ($3,200) fine and 6 months’ jail.

Non-Hong Kong residents must stay in government isolation centres or hotel rooms for the same period, facing the same penalties. While China is bearing the brunt, anxiety levels are spiking across Asia, with Japan alarmed by the rising number of cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship, major foreign companies pulling out of an international airshow in Singapore, and Thailand losing money as Chinese tourists stay home.

Another three people on the cruise liner off Japan tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases from the ship to 64, Japan’s health ministry said.

Taiwan and Hong Kong urged residents not to hoard goods such as toilet paper amid signs of panic buying, and the World Health Organization (WHO) chief warned of worldwide shortages of medical gowns, masks and other protective equipment.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd on Friday banned “any guests holding a Chinese, Hong Kong or Macau passports, regardless of when they were there last” from boarding the company’s ships.

WHO emergency expert Mike Ryan said reports of Asians being shunned in the West over a perceived connection to coronavirus was “utterly and completely unacceptable and it needs to stop.”

Taiwan’s government said that starting from Monday it would suspend all direct passenger and freight shipping between the island and China. It had already decided to suspend most flights from Monday between Taiwan to China.

Hundreds of foreigners have been evacuated out of Wuhan over the past two weeks. A second evacuation plane to airlift Australians out of Wuhan was delayed after China did not give it clearance to land, Australian officials said on Saturday. Global equity markets and government debt yields slumped on Friday, as growing concerns about the virus’ impact on global growth overshadowed a strong U.S. jobs report.

Apple Inc, however, said it was working to reopen its China corporate offices and call centres next week, and was making preparations to reopen retail stores there. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said the United States was prepared to spend up to $100 million to assist China and support coronavirus efforts by the WHO.

The United States has sent nearly 17.8 tons of medical supplies to China, including masks, gowns and respirators, a State Department official said.

The WHO said out of $675 million it is seeking for its coronavirus response through April, it has received pledges of $110 million, $100 million of that from the Gates Foundation.

Coming up with any vaccine typically takes years, and involves a lengthy process of testing on animals, clinical trials on humans and regulatory approvals.

Scientists from the United States to Australia are using new technology in an ambitious, multi-million-dollar drive to develop a vaccine in record time to tackle China’s coronavirus outbreak. The new virus has spread rapidly since emerging late last year in China, killing more than 800 people in the mainland and infecting over 37,000. Cases have been reported in two dozen other countries. Coming up with any vaccine typically takes years, and involves a lengthy process of testing on animals, clinical trials on humans and regulatory approvals. But several teams of experts are racing to develop one quicker, backed by an international coalition that aims to combat emerging diseases, and Australian scientists hope their’s could be ready in six months. “It is a high-pressure situation and there is a lot of weight on us,” said senior researcher Keith Chappell, part of the group from Australia’s University of Queensland. But the scientist added he took “some solace” knowing several teams around the world were engaged in the same mission. “The hope is that one of these will be successful and can contain this outbreak,” he said.

But even a timeframe of six months looks agonisingly slow with the virus, believed to have emerged from a market selling wild animals, killing close to 100 people every day in mainland China. Efforts are being led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a body established in 2017 to finance costly biotechnology research in the wake of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people. With a mission to speed up the development of vaccines, CEPI is pouring millions of dollars into four projects around the world and has put out a call for more proposals. The projects hope to use new technology to develop vaccines that can be tested in the near future.

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The body’s CEO, Richard Hatchett, said the aim was to start clinical testing in just 16 weeks. German biopharmaceutical company CureVac and US-based Moderna Therapeutics are developing vaccines based on “messenger RNA” — instructions that tell the body to produce proteins — while Inovio, another American firm, is using DNA-based technology. DNA- and RNA-based vaccines use the genetic coding of the virus to trick the body’s cells into producing proteins identical to those on the surface of the pathogen, explained Ooi Eng Eong, deputy director of the emerging infectious diseases programme at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.

The immune system learns to recognise the proteins so that it is ready to find and attack the virus when it enters the body. The Australian researchers are using “molecular clamp” technology invented by the university’s scientists that allows them to rapidly develop new vaccines based solely on a virus DNA sequence. French scientists at the Pasteur Institute are modifying the measles vaccine to work against the coronavirus, but do not expect it to be ready for about 20 months. Meanwhile, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has also started developing vaccines, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Health authorities weigh the risks and benefits in vaccine approvals and if there is a public health emergency, the process could be shortened, said Ooi of the Duke-NUS Medical School. But he added that “paradoxically, if the situation improves, then actually the pathway for vaccines would be longer”. “If there’s a lot of these new coronavirus cases around, then you accept some risk, because of the tremendous amount of benefit you can derive, whereas if there are not many cases, the tolerance for risk would be very low.”

While there is no vaccine for the coronavirus, some doctors are trying out a potent brew of anti-retroviral and flu drugs to treat those infected, but the science is inconclusive as to whether they are effective. Ultimately, scientists may end up in the same situation they were during the 2002-2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) — it died out before a vaccine could be fully developed. A close cousin of the new coronavirus, SARS spread around the world and killed nearly 800.

But Ong Siew Hwa, the director of Acumen Research Laboratories, a biotech company in Singapore, said efforts to develop a vaccine for the new virus should continue even if the outbreak ends. “I think a vaccine will definitely be important,” she said. “If it’s not in time for this round, it is important for the next time.”

The virus has spread rapidly since emerging late last year in China, killing more than 800 people in the mainland and infecting over 37,000.

Aviation regulator DGCA has stopped the pre-flight breathalyzer (BA) test for the aircrew operating out of Kerala’s four airports during the next 15 days in the wake of the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak.

The breathalyzer (BA) test measures whether a person is drunk or not.

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“The mandatory BA test for flight crew who are operating out of Kerala’s airports has been stopped for the next 15 days in light of coronavirus situation,” a senior official of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said.

He, however, added that the crew working in flights departing from any one of Kerala’s four airports – Calicut, Kannur, Trivandrum and Cochin – will compulsorily undergo post-flight BA tests at the next immediate city where they land.

India has so far reported three novel coronavirus cases, all from Kerala. The Indians tested positive for the disease are students who recently returned from China’s Wuhan city, the epicentre of the virus outbreak.

The virus has spread rapidly since emerging late last year in China, killing more than 800 people in the mainland and infecting over 37,000. Cases have been reported in two dozen other countries.

The DGCA had stated on Saturday that foreigners who have been to China on or after January 15 won’t be allowed to enter India.

The aviation regulator, in its circular to airlines on Saturday, reiterated that all visas issued to Chinese nationals before February 5 have been suspended.

However, it clarified, “These visa restrictions will not apply to aircrew, who may be Chinese nationals or other foreign nationalities coming from China.”

Among the Indian airlines, IndiGo and Air India have suspended all their flights between the two countries. SpiceJet, however, continues to fly on the Delhi-Hong Kong route.

On February 1 and February 2, Air India had conducted two special flights to Wuhan, evacuating 647 Indians and seven Maldivians.

India evacuated 647 Indians and seven Maldivians by operating two Special Air India flights to Wuhan earlier this month.

China on Friday denied any delay in allowing a special Indian flight to the coronavirus-hit Wuhan city to deliver medical supplies and evacuate remaining Indians from there, saying the concerned departments of both the countries were in touch to finalise the schedule.

India on February 17 announced that it will send Indian Air Force’s largest plane C-17 Globemaster with medical supplies to Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus, and bring back its nationals as well as citizens from all neighbouring countries who were still stuck there on the return flight.

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The special flight to Wuhan is reportedly awaiting clearance from China.

India evacuated 647 Indians and seven Maldivians by operating two Special Air India flights to Wuhan earlier this month.

Asked why there is a delay in granting permission to the third Indian flight, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told an online press briefing on Friday that China has assisted India earlier to evacuate a large number of Indians from Wuhan and Hubei province.

“The competent departments on the two sides are still in communication on the arrangement for the remaining 80 people that India plans to fly home. There is no such a thing as China delaying giving flight permissions,” he said.

Geng said the Chinese government attaches high importance to the lives and health of all foreign nationals in China.

A Chinese official on Thursday said 29 foreign nationals in China were infected with the novel coronavirus and 18 of them have recovered.

“We have offered them all the necessary help they need and will continue to do so. At present, China’s prevention efforts have been proven to be effective,” he said, referring to Chinese health officials’ observation that the cases of the virus have started declining.

“We hope that relevant countries will respect the reasonable recommendations given by the WHO (World Health Organisation) and avoid overreacting. China will continue to work with the international community to fight against the epidemic and promote the global cause of public health,” he said.

Meanwhile, the death toll in the novel coronavirus in China has rose to 2,236 with 118 more casualties reported, mostly from the hard-hit Hubei province, while the overall confirmed infection cases have climbed to 75,465, Chinese health officials said on Friday.