The number of deaths from the coronavirus in China rose to more than 1,700 on Monday as international experts began a joint mission with their Chinese counterparts to tackle the epidemic.
The total number of cases of so-called COVID-19 in the Asian country, most of them in the central province of Hubei, has surpassed 70,500, according to the latest update from the country's National Health Commission.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said its specialists had held their first meetings with Chinese health experts as part of efforts to find out how the new virus is spreading.
Crucial days ahead
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said of the gathering on Twitter: "We look forward to this vitally important collaboration contributing to global knowledge about the #COVID19 outbreak."
In another tweet, he said: "Together, we are facing #COVID19 & we must use the window of opportunity to intensify our preparedness for it. And more than ever it’s time to let science & evidence lead policy. If we don’t, we are headed down a dark path that leads nowhere but division and disharmony."
Tedros had a word of warning for Chinese authorities, who have suggested there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is "impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take," he said.
The UN's health body has also asked China for more information on how diagnoses are being determined.
On Monday morning, more than 1,000 additional military doctors and nurses began arriving in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, to support the city's struggling health-care system. The city accounts for the vast majority of China's coronavirus cases.
US citizens on cruise ship return home
US citizens were taken off a cruise liner on Sunday and flown home after being quarantined for two weeks off the coast of Japan.
Some 3,700 passengers and crew have been held onboard the Diamond Princess since February 3. At least 454 of them have now tested positive for the virus, by far the largest cluster of cases outside China.
The Japanese Health Ministry, which on Monday raised the previous figure of 355 confirmed infections by 99, said 43 of the new cases were Japanese.
Australian, Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers were expected to be repatriated in the coming days after their governments also announced plans to get them home.
No imperial birthday celebration
Japan meanwhile canceled planned public celebrations for Emperor Naruhito's 60th birthday on Sunday amid fears over the spread of the new coronavirus.
At least 60 people in the country have been diagnosed so far with the virus, with the government on Sunday warning citizens to avoid crowds and "non-essential gatherings."
kw,tj,jsi/ng (AFP, dpa, Reuters)