WHO experts set to join the battle against COVID-19 in China as death toll crosses 1500

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Top WHO experts are set to arrive in Beijing this weekend to assist China to contain the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak as the death toll climbed to 1,523 in China and France reported the first fatality outside Asia, fuelling concerns about the epidemic.

More than 66,000 people are now infected from the virus in China, health officials said.

On Saturday China’s Health Commission said the death toll in China rose to 1,523 after 143 more people died in the country, most in Hubei, the epicenter of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.

There were reports of 2,641 new confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2infection and 143 deaths on Friday from 31 provincial-level regions, it said.

A top Chinese health official said efforts to prevent and control the virus outbreak reached its most crucial stage as the virus epicenter Hubei province continues to grapple with growing fatalities over a month after the virus outbreak even though the cases began dropping in rest of China.

he virus emerged in central Hubei province in December before spreading across the country and some two dozen countries.

In France, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died from COVID-19, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said on Saturday.

Only three other deaths have been recorded outside mainland China — in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Japan.

The most concentrated number of cases outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese coast, which is holding at least 285 people with the virus among its 3,711 crew and passengers.

A total of 138 Indians, including 132 crew and 6 passengers, are among the 3,711 people on board the quarantined ship. Three Indians are among those infected on the ship.

Several countries have banned arrivals from China and major airlines have cut services with the country.

The COVID-19 has posed a big threat to the medical staff in China as more than 1,700 Chinese health workers have been infected by the virus while treating the patients and six of them have died so far.

While China dispatched more medical teams and poured more resources to virus-hit Hubei and its provincial capital Wuhan, experts of the World Health Organisation (WHO) are converging here this weekend to join Chinese health specialists to contain the virus.

The prevention and control of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak are currently at its most crucial stage in China and Hubei Province remained the main battlefield, a senior health official said.

A total of 217 medical teams with 25,633 medical workers had been sent to Hubei to help combat the COVID-19 as of Friday. Of the medical workers, 20,374 are now working in Wuhan, figures from the NHC show.

Meanwhile, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the international joint mission with China on the novel COVID-19 is moving forward, with the full team expected to reach China over the weekend.

The team will consist of 12 international and WHO experts and a similar number of their Chinese counterparts. An advanced WHO team arrived here on Monday.

“The China mission will include in-depth workshops’ data review, a series of meetings with key national-level institutions and field visits in three provinces to understand the application and impact of response activities at the province and country levels, including urban and rural areas,” Mr. Tedros was quoted as saying by state-run Xinhua news agency.

Mr. Tedros said that one of the goals of the joint mission is to rapidly inform the public of the next steps in the COVID-19 response and preparedness activities in China and globally.

“Particular attention will be paid to understanding the transmission of the virus, the severity of disease and the impact of ongoing response measures,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, it will be important to review which type of information is needed so that the world can use this window of opportunity to prepare health systems and workers for possible outbreaks.

“I want to say again from my heart that this is the time for solidarity not stigma,” he stressed.

China’s National Health Commission said the joint mission with WHO experts will also pay field visits to China’s three provincial-level regions to learn the implementation and effectiveness of the epidemic prevention and control measures taken in China’s urban and rural areas.

One of the goals of the joint mission is to provide suggestions on the prevention and control of the COVID-19 outbreak in China and globally, it said.

In addition, the expert team will visit epidemic-related institutions focusing on epidemiology, medical treatment, laboratory detection, and scientific research, said the NHC.

One task of the WHO team along with their Chinese counterparts is to come up with standard medicine to cure the disease.

China has applied for Traditional Chinese Medicine in treating more than half of the confirmed patients of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Hubei province, Mr. Wang said.

The TCM has been applied in treating more than half of the confirmed patients of SARS-CoV-2infection in Hubei province, he said.

The Chinese government has also approved field trials for experimental U.S. antiviral drugs, Remdesivir to treat COVID-19 patients. Remdesivir has been used recently to treat the Ebola virus in Africa.

Jiao Yahui, also a senior official at the National Health Commission, said that the combination of traditional and western medicines have shown supportive results.

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