Scientists in China are ramping up efforts to develop a vaccine against the deadly Coronavirus which has killed more than 50 people and prompted a wider travel lockdown in central China.
The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Sunday that researchers had isolated viruses and were selecting a strain, according to Xu Wenbo, a director of CDC’s virus institute.
Xu told reporters at a press conference in Beijing that researchers had used high-throughput genetic sequencing to identify pathogens one day after the first four samples were sent from Wuhan on January 2.
Meanwhile, the US, France and Russia are preparing to pull their citizens out of Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, as the death toll in China rose sharply on Sunday, with no signs of easing. Other countries are ramping up quarantine measures in an attempt to prevent further infections in their own territories.
The number of confirmed cases and deaths from the fast-spreading coronavirus have both doubled within 36 hours in mainland China as more cities announced travel bans, effective Monday.
China’s National Health Commission said the death toll from the new virus on the mainland had risen to 56 by Sunday morning, with 1,975 total cases confirmed. The figures mark a major jump – of 15 deaths and 688 cases – in just 24 hours.
The US State Department on Sunday confirmed it would relocate personnel from its Wuhan consulate to the United States and would offer a limited number of seats to private American citizens on a flight expected to leave the city on Tuesday, bound for San Francisco, according to Reuters. Individuals at greatest risk to the coronavirus would be given priority.
“The health and safety of US citizens, including the employees of US Consulate General Wuhan, is our top priority,” a US embassy spokesperson said.
“We strongly encourage US citizens in China to enrol in the Smart Traveller Enrolment Programme (STEP.state.gov) in order to receive the latest updates on health, security, and any possible US government plans to assist travellers. The full range of consular services, including American citizen services and visa processing, remain available at the US Embassy in Beijing and US consulates in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang.”
Meanwhile, France is considering a bus service for the evacuation of its citizens, their spouses and children from Wuhan, according to a French foreign ministry statement. An emergency phone line has been set up, the ministry said.
The Russian embassy said Russia was also consulting Beijing about a possible evacuation plan, both from Wuhan and other areas of Hubei province, according to a report by the RIA news agency on Saturday.
China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had made corresponding arrangements to provide necessary assistance and convenience.
The acceleration of the spread of the disease is a grave concern for China’s leadership, with state media reporting on Saturday that the Communist Party’s Central Committee has set up a leading group to manage the outbreak, to be directed by the Standing Committee, the country’s top decision making body.
Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered party committees and governments at all levels to make prevention and control of the coronavirus outbreak “the top priority of their work”.
“It is our responsibility to prevent and control it,” Xi said.
After Saturday’s top-level meeting, more Chinese cities announced traffic control measures to stop the disease from spreading. Shantou, in the southern province of Guangdong, is the latest Chinese city to announce traffic restrictions.
The Shantou government said on Sunday morning it would stop all cars, vessels and people from entering the city effective Monday, making it one of the strictest lockdowns in the country.
Thirty provincial-level regions reporting cases of the new coronavirus in China have activated a first-level emergency response in an attempt to contain the spread of the viral pneumonia, according to official news agency Xinhua.
On Saturday, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan, Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang and Hainan joined other regions in launching their top-level public health emergency response.