US prepares for ‘pandemic’ as China coronavirus death toll reaches 426 with 20,000+ cases

The death toll from a fast moving viral outbreak sweeping China has risen to 426, with just shy of 20,000 cases worldwide. WHO has urged for preparedness instead of panic, as the US called the spread “explosive and unprecedented.”

Another 2,345 cases were confirmed in Hubei by Tuesday, as the novel coronavirus surpasses the scale of the SARS outbreak of the early 2000s and health authorities around the world continue to take aggressive steps to contain its spread.

Of the 426 confirmed fatalities, all but one have occurred in Mainland China, with an additional death in the Philippines involving a Chinese national who traveled from Wuhan, the city where the virus was first observed.

Beyond China, some 155 cases have been confirmed across at least 25 nations, many of them in Asia, including Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand, as well as in the United States, France, England, Russia and elsewhere.

While urging for preparedness in place of panic, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Monday that the world may be “dangerously” ill-equipped for a real pandemic despite ample time to prepare after previous virus scares, arguing that precautions against a widespread outbreak have “remained grossly inadequate” in a number of countries and reflect a “cycle of panic and neglect.”

“We throw money at an outbreak, and when it’s over, we forget about it and do nothing to prevent the next one,” Tedros said at a WHO executive board meeting in Geneva.

This must be a lesson for the rest of the world.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, dubbed the outbreak “explosive” and “unprecedented” on Monday, with the director of the agency’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, telling reporters that health officials were “preparing as if this were the next pandemic.”

With 11 confirmed cases in the US, strict travel restrictions were put into effect on Sunday, which include denying entry to foreign nations who visited China 14 days prior to their arrival in the United States. US citizens who have traveled to Hubei province in the last two weeks will also be subject to mandatory quarantines. Similar measures have been put into place in dozens of other countries, ranging from outright travel bans to warnings and advisories.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying reiterated criticism of the US response to the outbreak on Tuesday, urging Washington to stop fuelling fear and deliver on offers of close cooperation and assistance. Beijing previously slammed the US for setting a “bad example,” deeming the hasty evacuation of American diplomats from China as a dramatic overreaction.

Despite the climbing disease toll, the number of recoveries have surpassed the deaths. Over 500 patients have bounced back from the illness in China, with several other recoveries in Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Australia. Officials in Taiwan also announced on Sunday that a “cocktail” of HIV and other flu medicines led to a speedy recovery for one patient in the span of 48 hours.

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