United Kingdom

Coronavirus: China death toll passes 100 as Beijing records its first fatality

The new strain of coronavirus spreading across China claimed its first victim in Beijing, officials said on Tuesday, as the death toll jumped to 106. 

While the UK embarked on a desperate scramble to return 200 British nationals stranded in Wuhan, the United States, Japan other nations also raced to get their citizens out of Wuhan, the locked-down Chinese city at ground zero of a virus epidemic.

Expanding its massive effort to contain the viral outbreak, China urged its citizens to postpone trips abroad.

The recommendation to delay non-essential travel was issued "in order to protect the health and safety of Chinese and foreign people", the National Immigration Administration said in a statement.

"Reducing people's cross-border movement helps to prevent and control outbreaks," the agency added.

Amid mounting concern about the virus on Chinese social media, the National Health Commission said in a statement that all but six of those killed by the previously unknown flu-like virus were in Wuhan, Hubei province. Though cases of the virus have been confirmed in other countries, no fatalities have been reported outside China.

The city of 11 million, where the virus emerged late last year, is now under effective lockdown. Footage shared on China's Twitter-like Weibo social media platform showed residents of apartment compounds in the city chanting "Wuhan, you can do it!" and singing the national anthem out of their windows.

Tuesday's death toll was up from 81 as of the day before, while the number of total confirmed cases in China surged to 4,515 as of Jan. 27, from 2,835 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said.

Global stocks fell, oil prices hit three-month lows, and China's yuan dipped to its weakest level in 2020 as investors worried about damage to the economy from travel bans over the Lunar New Year holiday period, which China extended in a bid to keep people at home.

Officially known as '2019-nCoV', the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia, but it is still too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.

US President Donald Trump on Monday offered China whatever help it needed, while the State Department said Americans should "reconsider" visiting all of China due to the virus.

Canada, which has two confirmed cases of the virus and is investigating 19 more potential cases, warned its citizens to avoid travel to Hubei province.

Cases linked to people who travelled from Wuhan have been confirmed in a dozen countries, from Germany to the United States. Sri Lanka was among the latest to confirm a case.

Japan will send a plane to the Chinese city of Wuhan later on Tuesday to begin evacuating citizens from the centre of a deadly virus outbreak, the country's foreign minister said.

"We are taking this proactive measure to slow down travel, and possibly help prevent the entry of the 2019-nCov," Jaime Morente, the commissioner of the Philippines' Bureau of Immigration, said in a statement, referring to the virus.

There is no order barring Chinese nationals from entering the Philippines, however, Mr Morente added.

Chinese nationals can still apply for visas at any Philippine embassy or consulate at their places of residence.

The United States was also trying to organise a rescue mission. A chartered California-bound flight with limited space had been scheduled to leave Wuhan on Tuesday with consular staff and some American citizens.

But the State Department said it was postponed to Wednesday, without giving a reason.

France has also said it intends to fly its citizens out of the city in the middle of this week.

The Philippines stopped issuing visas on arrival to Chinese nationals on Tuesday, in a bid to keep the southeast Asian nation free of a new virus.

There have been no confirmed cases in the Philippines since the coronavirus outbreak began, but infections have been confirmed in Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.