UK urges citizens in China to leave over coronavirus concerns; Belgium announces first case

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Britain on Tuesday urged all of its citizens in China to leave in light of the deadly virus outbreak, while Belgium became the latest nation to announce a confirmed case.

The U.K. Foreign Office said in an updated travel advisory that commercial flight options remained available throughout China, with the exception of Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak that includes the hard-hit city of Wuhan. The British government said it would still try to evacuate British citizens from Hubei, where some 50 million people are under travel restrictions.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says the U.K. government now advises citizens “in China to leave the country if they can, to minimize their risk of exposure to the virus.”

France also issued an advisory warning against any non-essential travel to China and suggested that French citizens in China return home.

More than 20,400 people have been infected with the virus in China, with 425 cases having resulted in death. Two others have died in the Philippines and Hong Kong, while 20 other nations have reported cases.

Belgium, meanwhile, reported its first case of the coronavirus from one of nine citizens who were returned from Wuhan over the weekend. The health ministry said the carrier was in good health and did not show any symptoms of the disease. The patient was taken to a special hospital for further care while the others remained under observation.

Germany confirmed two more cases of the virus that include another employee of the auto parts company that was visited by a Chinese colleague two weeks ago and a second child of one of the factory employees.

In all, Europe has confirmed 28 cases of the coronavirus: Germany announcing 12; France six; Russia, Italy and the U.K two each and Finland, Sweden, Spain and Belgium one each.

The European Union’s medical agency said Tuesday it would continue to “accelerate the development and availability” of medicines to treat and prevent the virus.

The Amsterdam-based agency is responsible for evaluating, supervising and monitoring pharmaceuticals in the 27-nation bloc.

It said in a statement that while there are currently no medicines authorized to detect, treat of prevent infections from the new virus, it was “ready to support medicine developers with all available regulatory tools to advance and expedite the development of effective measures to fight and prevent the spread of this virus.”

Italy could lose up to 4.5 billion euros ($4.97 billion) in tourism revenue this year if coronavirus fears keep visitors away, polling agency Demoskopika said in a study released Tuesday. The amount represents around 5% of the tourism-generated contribution to Italy’s gross domestic product.

Fueling those fears, four regional Italian governors from the anti-migrant League party formally asked the health ministry to require school-age children from China to undergo 14 days of observation before being allowed back to class.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, however, demanded an end to such discriminatory reactions and the Italian National Health Institute insisted that its precautionary measures for school-age children were sufficient.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the first of five military transport aircraft used to evacuate Russians from Wuhan took off Tuesday from an airport in southern Siberia. Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said 132 Russians and 15 citizens of other ex-Soviet nations are to be evacuated from Wuhan. They will undergo quarantine in southwestern Siberia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Chinese authorities to work hard to halt the outbreak.

“I hope that our Chinese friends will overcome the difficult situation with honor. We all want results of the fight against the new virus to be as efficient and quick as possible,” Putin said Tuesday at a meeting with students and researchers.

Dr. David Heymann, who led the World Health Organization’s response to the SARS outbreak, said it was too early to tell when the virus outbreak would peak, but that it appeared the disease was still on the rise. He said the exponential spike in China’s caseload in recent days was partly attributable to the fact that Chinese officials expanded their search to include milder cases, not only those with pneumonia.

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