Deaths rise to 132 in China outbreak as foreigners leave

(AP) - Authorities say the death toll in mainland China in an outbreak of a new virus has risen to 132, with a total of 5,974 cases reported. It’s a rise of 26 over the previous day’s tally and a rise of nearly 1,500 confirmed cases.

The update came shortly after a plane carrying Americans from Wuhan departed on its way to Anchorage, Alaska, where the travelers will be rescreened for the virus. Hospitals are prepared to treat or quarantine people who may be infected. Then the plane is scheduled to fly to California.

A Japanese chartered flight carrying 206 evacuees from Wuhan arrived in Tokyo. Japanese officials say four people from the flight have a cough and fever. The four are a woman in her 50s and three men whose ages are from their 30s to 50s. They were taken to a Tokyo hospital on separate ambulances for treatment and further medical checks.

Plans were already in place for all evacuees to be treated and quarantined depending on their test results.

U.S. health officials have offered a reality check about the scary new virus from China: They’re expanding screenings of international travelers and taking other precautions but, for now, they insist the risk to Americans is very low.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that worry about the virus should not impact Americans’ day-to-day lives.

So far, there are five confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. and no sign they have spread the illness to those around them.

As a precaution, the U.S. is beefing up its checks on returning international travelers beyond the five airports initially announced, to encompass 20 entry points.

Hong Kong’s leader says it will cut all rail links to mainland China and halve the number of flights, as authorities in China and overseas sought to stem the spread of the new virus.

China has cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further.

The death toll includes the first death in Beijing, the Chinese capital, and 24 more fatalities in Hubei province, where the first illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus occurred in December.

Germany announced its first case Tuesday. The 33-year-old man is in isolation at a Munich hospital as a precaution. He took part last Tuesday in a training session at his workplace that also involved an employee from China. The woman, who hadn’t previously shown any symptoms, flew home on Thursday and went to a doctor after feeling ill on the flight. She then tested positive for the new virus.

The Chinese government has locked down whole cities in the Hubei province, isolating some 50 million people in a sweeping anti-disease effort. Other governments, including Japan, France and South Korea, are preparing to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan.

Many of the thousand or so Americans in the city are staying behind because of non-American family members, who aren’t allowed on the plane.

San Francisco native Doug Perez says “there is no way on Earth” he would leave behind his Chinese girlfriend, and plans to hunker down and weather out the epidemic for as long as it takes.

While richer countries prepare to evacuate some citizens from Wuhan, a Tanzanian student has become an accidental leader for hundreds of African peers with little chance of a similar escape. A grassroots effort has begun to combat disinformation and keep them calm.

Beijing’s push to expand its influence on the youthful African continent means there are 80,000 African students in China, with more than 4,000 said to be in Wuhan alone. None expected to be confined to their campuses amid the virus outbreak as food risks running short.

Meanwhile, anger has exploded over a sluggish response to the virus by local Wuhan officials, even as the central government has acted swiftly.

Top city officials attended a Lunar New Year gala last week where performers were sniffling and sneezing, and thousands of people shared a community feast the same day the National Health Commission came to investigate a new viral outbreak.

Local hospitals pleaded for supplies as overworked doctors and nurses grappled with crowds.

Experts say the local inaction reflects systematic problems with the Chinese government’s increasingly rigid, authoritarian rule.

Panic over the virus and pollution are driving a surging market for protective face masks in Asia, straining supplies and helping make mask-wearing the new normal. Demand for face masks and hand sanitizing liquid has soared, as both local residents and visitors from China stock up on such products as a precaution. Factories are rushing to boost production.

In some parts of Asia, wearing of surgical masks has become mandatory, for now.

Asian stock markets tumbled for a second day, dragged down by worries about the virus’s global economic impact. Markets in Hong Kong and mainland China were closed Tuesday for Lunar New Year holidays, while South Korea’s benchmark tumbled 3.4% as it reopened after its own holidays. Shares also fell in Tokyo, Sydney and Taiwan. However, shares rose Tuesday in Paris and Frankfurt.

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