Virus death toll in China rises to 56 with about 2,000 cases

BEIJING (AP) - The death toll from the new virus in China has risen to 56 with 1,975 total cases reported.

In this Jan. 24, 2020, file photo an employee works to prevent a new coronavirus at Suseo Station in Seoul, South Korea. On Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, The Associated Press reported on the false claim that the coronavirus outbreak spreading from China is nothing new and that patents were created around it years ago. The patents being shared online are not related to the new respiratory virus that has sickened hundreds of people in China and caused concern around the world. (Source: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

The figures reported Sunday morning cover the previous 24 hours and mark an increase of 15 deaths and 688 cases.

The government also reported five cases in Hong Kong, two in Macao and three in Taiwan.

China’s leader on Saturday called the accelerating spread of a new virus a grave situation, as cities from the outbreak’s epicenter in central China to Hong Kong scrambled to contain the illness.

Travel agencies have been told to halt all group tours.

Millions of people traveling during the holiday have fueled the spread of the outbreak nationwide and overseas after it began in the city of Wuhan in central China.

First case in Canada

A Toronto hospital says it has a confirmed case of the deadly virus from China, Canada’s first.

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre said Saturday it is “caring for a patient who has a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China.”

Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health, said they are 95 percent sure it is the virus after lab testing was done in Ontario.

Officials said the man is his 50s and recently flew from Wuhan, China to Guangzhou, China and then on to Toronto on Jan. 23.

Ground zero

In Wuhan, where the outbreak began, most vehicles including private cars are banned from the downtown area in a further bid to limit the spread of the illness.

State media said Saturday that only authorized vehicles to carry supplies and for other needs would be permitted. Public transportation was shut down earlier this week, as well as flights and trains out of the city.

Authorities are trying to prevent the virus from spreading in the city and to other parts of the country.

The English-language China Daily newspaper said that 6,000 taxis will be assigned to different neighborhoods to help people get around if they need to.

China’s most festive holiday, Lunar New Year, has begun in the shadow of a worrying new virus as the death toll surpassed 40, an unprecedented lockdown kept 36 million people from traveling and authorities canceled a host of Lunar New Year events.

Beyond China

Australia announced its first case Saturday, a Chinese man in his 50s who last week returned from China.

Malaysia confirmed three cases.

France says three people had fallen ill with the virus — the disease’s first appearance in Europe.

And the United States reported its second case, involving a Chicago woman in her 60s who was hospitalized in isolation after returning from China.

Exotic meats

The outbreak of the new virus, which is linked to a wildlife market in central China, is prompting renewed calls for enforcement of laws against the trade in and consumption of exotic species.

The spread of the disease from the central Chinese city of Wuhan is the worst in Asia since the 2003 outbreak of SARS. That, too, was traced to the consumption of wild animals, in the southern city of Guangzhou. China’s Agriculture Ministry issued an order earlier this week ordering tightened controls on trade in wildlife, focusing on farmers’ markets, restaurants and other places known to be involved.

Working on a vaccine

Researchers have not yet announced a definitive source for the latest outbreak, which like many other viruses has genetic markers found in multiple species.

Biotech Company Moderna, a company in Massachusetts, is partnering with the National Institute of Health to teach the immune system to recognize a virus that takes over cells.

Researchers are using MRNA technology, which instructs cells in the body to make proteins to prevent or fight the disease.

The first step is to figure out the right vaccine and then prove it can work in someone by conducting a clinical trial.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. CNN contributed to this report.