Virus infects more than 1700 health workers in China, 6 die

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The WHO has been able to track down the source of transmission in all but eight of the 441 cases of the virus outside China, its head of emergencies Michael Ryan said.

Yesterday Japan became the third place outside the Chinese mainland to report a death, after one each in Hong Kong and the Philippines. The nationwide toll still rose to 1,380.

Under criticism at home over the handling of the crisis, China's Communist Party sacked two top-ranking officials in Hubei and replaced them with senior cadres with security backgrounds.

He said that the apparent stabilisation in the number of new cases in China and the slower spread of cases outside Hubei province - where the virus first emerged - was reassuring.

China reported a sharp spike in deaths and infections from a new virus after the hardest-hit province of Hubei applied a new classification system that broadens the scope of diagnoses for the outbreak, which has spread to more than 20 countries.

The 12 Canadians who contracted the virus on board the ship have been moved to Japanese health facilities, and at least three require hospitalization, Champagne said.

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Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said the United Nations agency will assess all numbers. Health officials in Hubei, the epicenter of the 2-month-old outbreak, said they changed their detection methods from a laboratory test to computerized body scans. The new block of clinical cases may date back days or weeks.

"There have been some backlogs in testing and this is also going to help in ensuring that people get adequate care", Ryan said.

The health commission is "highly concerned about this issue" and has issued guidelines for the prevention and control of infection within medical institutions, he said.

China's health commission said the change in counting methodology was aimed at identifying suspected cases in which the patient has pneumonia so they can be treated more quickly and reduce the likelihood of more serious illness or death.

In Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, where tens of millions of people have been trapped as part of an unprecedented quarantine effort, 242 new deaths were reported yesterday.

Some cities in Hubei tightened restrictions this week, sealing off neighborhoods in what they liken to "war-time" measures.

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Chinese authorities have scrambled to deploy protective gear to Wuhan's hospitals where doctors and nurses have been overwhelmed by the outbreak.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus greeted news of the slowdown with caution Wednesday, saying the outbreak "could still go in any direction".

"We have to ask about pollution and the prevalence of smoking, both of which are very, very common in China", Dr. Schaffner said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing has had an "open and transparent attitude" with the global community since the start of the epidemic.

In addition, there are now more than 200 cases on board the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan - the largest cluster outside China.

The reports did not give a reason for the dismissals but the two are the most high-profile Chinese officials to be removed from duty following the coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan late a year ago.

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Many airlines have suspended flights to China, while countries have imposed bans or quarantine for people arriving from China, disrupting businesses and playing havoc with conferences and sporting events.

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