SHANGHAI, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Health authorities in Hubei, the Chinese province at the centre of the coronavirus epidemic, said on Friday that deaths from the disease had risen to 204, a sharp increase that underscores concerns about the virus from global health officials.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said late Thursday that it was declaring the outbreak a global emergency, as cases spread to at least 18 countries.
The latest Hubei figures take the total death toll for China to at least 212. China’s National Health Commission is expected to release new national figures later on Friday.
There have been a further 1,220 cases detected in Hubei by end of Jan. 30, taking the total for the province alone to close to 6,000, Hubei’s health commission said.
Nearly 100 cases have emerged in other countries, spurring cuts to travel, outbreaks of anti-China sentiment in some places, and a surge in demand for protective face masks.
In Hubei some 60 million people are living under virtual lockdown as China seeks to contain the epidemic.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, praised China’s response in a news conference in Geneva on Thursday evening but said the WHO was concerned about the virus spreading to countries that did not have the resources to deal with it.
“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China but because of what is happening in other countries. Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,” he said.
The WHO move will trigger tighter containment and information-sharing guidelines to all countries, but may disappoint Beijing, which had expressed confidence it can beat the “devil” virus.
China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, said Beijing was assessing the declaration.
“We are still at a very critical stage in fighting the coronavirus. International solidarity is extremely important and for that purpose all countries should behave in a … responsible manner,” Zhang said.