Coronavirus: Death toll climbs, 690 new cases confirmed

Last Updated: Sunday, 26 January 2020 (16:04 IST)
China's health ministry says the new deadly virus's ability to spread is getting stronger. The death toll has risen to 56 amid hundreds of new infections in just 24 hours.A new strain of discovered in China claimed 15 more lives since Saturday, bringing the total death count to 56.
Figures reflecting developments in the past 24 hours revealed 688 new cases, making a total of 1,975 infections in China and over 2,000 internationally in what Chinese President Xi Jinping has classified as a "grave situation."
 
A handful of new cases were reported in nearby Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan.
 
The first suspected infection in Germany was reported on Saturday by the newspaper Bild, though the case in Berlin has not been officially confirmed.
 
Ability to spread increasing
 
In a press briefing on Sunday, China's National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said the virus's transmission ability is getting stronger and that the number of cases could continue to rise.
 
The minister said that experts' knowledge of the virus was limited and that the risks posed by a possible mutation are unknown.
 
The infection's incubation period can last from one to 14 days, he said.
 
Officials have previously cautioned that the rapid increase in the death toll and number of infections does not necessarily indicate that the disease is spreading more quickly and may instead reflect improved monitoring and reporting practices.
 
Most of the people who lost their lives to the virus were middle-aged or elderly and had a pre-existing medical condition.
 
Wildlife trade banned
 
Cases have also been identified in several other countries, including the US, France, Japan and Australia. Malaysia and Canada confirmed their first cases of the virus on Saturday.
 
Chinese officials announced Sunday that the country was banning indefinitely the trade of wildlife products in markets, supermarkets, restaurants, and on e-commerce platforms. The source of the virus has been traced to a seafood market that was illegally selling wildlife. 
 
Places that breed wildlife were placed under quarantine and the transportation of wildlife was also banned. 
 
Quarantines and evacuations
 
The US embassy in Beijing announced Sunday that the chartered plane arriving Tuesday to transport US citizens out of Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak, will have limited capacity and that those "at greater risk" to the virus would be given priority.
 
French automaker PSA Group said it will also remove French employees from the city, adding that they will be quarantined before being brought back to France.
 
Several Chinese provinces have banned inter-provincial travel. In Shanghai, officials have stopped cruise ships from moving into and out of its port.
 
The virus has disrupted Lunar New Year celebration plans for hundreds of millions of people. The holiday, which takes place this week, is among the most significant in China.