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Airlines cut China flights as virus death toll leaps

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Qantas is continuing to fly to and from China, despite British Airways halting all flights and more airlines across Europe, Asia and the US suspending services as the coronavirus death toll jumped to 170, with more than 7000 confirmed cases.

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The new toll is a marked increase on overnight figures, which were 133 deaths and 5974 confirmed cases in China.

Qantas is maintaining flights to and from China while talking with the federal government about an evacuation mission for Australians stranded in the locked-down virus epicentre of Wuhan, in Hubei province.

The World Health Organisation’s Emergency Committee will meet today to decide whether the virus now constitutes a global emergency.

“In the last few days the progress of the virus especially in some countries, especially human-to-human transmission, worries us,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva, naming Germany, Vietnam and Japan.

SA Health says seven South Australians are waiting for test results, while another eight have come back negative.

“All of the people are investigation are being managed using standard infection control protocols and we are unable to release details for privacy reasons,” it said in a statement.

Queensland recorded its first case of coronavirus with a man treated on the Gold Coast, as a China’s women’s soccer team was forced into quarantine at a Brisbane hotel.

A 44-year-old man from Wuhan – the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak – is in isolation at the Gold Coast University Hospital.

Meanwhile, health authorities are closely monitoring the Chinese women’s soccer team who will remain holed up in their Brisbane hotel to ensure they are not carrying it.

All of the 32 players and their staff, who travelled from Wuhan and arrived in Brisbane on Wednesday, are so far well but authorities believe the virus is contagious before people show any symptoms.

The team had been due to open the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Qualifiers with a match against Thailand in Sydney on Monday.

Ticket sales for the tournament have now been suspended, throwing the Olympic campaign of the Matildas, Australia’s national women’s side, into turmoil.

The Football Federation of Australia says it’s working with the federal government and the Asian Football Confederation to “explore the ramifications” after authorities voiced concerns about the asymptomatic spread of the respiratory virus.

It has promised an update as soon as possible on the future of the tournament.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young says there’s no risk to other guests and staff at the unnamed Brisbane hotel where the Chinese players are quarantined.

“If any of these footballers develop any symptoms, we’ll of course be taking them immediately to one of our hospitals,” she has said.

The condition of the man being treated on the Gold Coast is stable.

Queensland has joined other states in demanding anyone who has recently returned from Wuhan to isolate themselves for 14 days after their departure from the city.

Meanwhile, British and US airlines joined several Asian counterparts in either suspending or significantly cutting back China flights, while Germany’s Lufthansa and its subsidiaries Austrian Airlines and Swiss are suspending flights to mainland China through February 9.

Air India and South Korean budget carrier Seoul Air are also halting all flights to the country, and Indonesia’s Lion Air plans to do the same.

Other carriers including Finnair, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia are slashing service.

Beyond disrupting travel, the move will heighten concerns about the broader economic impact of the virus outbreak.

Hotels, airlines, casinos and cruise operators are among the industries suffering the most immediate repercussions, especially in countries close to China.

BA said it was immediately suspending all flights to and from mainland China after the UK government warned against unnecessary travel to the country amid a virus outbreak.

The airline operates daily flights from London’s Heathrow Airport to Shanghai and Beijing.

It took the measure a day after Britain’s Foreign Office updated its travel advice on China, warning against “all but essential travel” to the mainland, not including Hong Kong and Macao.

The US has not put into place travel restrictions, though Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said “it’s important to not take anything off the table,” when he was asked about that potential.

Google said it was temporarily shutting down all its offices in China due to the outbreak.

The Alphabet Inc business’s shutdown includes all offices in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Google’s offices in mainland China, where the company’s services are not available, focus on sales and engineering for its advertising business.

-with AAP

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