The Latest: WHO says mask demand may hurt health workers

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BEIJING (AP) — The Latest on a virus outbreak that began in China (all times local):

11:45 p.m.

The World Health Organization is warning that demand for masks and other protective equipment might jeopardize health workers responding to the outbreak of the new virus in China.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the U.N. agency’s emergencies chief, said Friday that WHO was most concerned about the surge in demand for specialist masks that health workers use when treating infectious patients, like respirators, rather than the cheap surgical masks sold more widely.

WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the increased pressure for equipment including gowns, gloves and masks led the agency to send supplies of such protective gear to countries in every region.

“This situation has been exacerbated by widespread inappropriate use of (personal protective equipment) outside of patient care,” he said. “As a result, there are now depleted stockpiles of four to six months.”

Tedros said the global stocks of masks and respirators were insufficient to meet the demands of WHO and partners. He added WHO was now working with private and public partners to try to manage the supply.


10:15 p.m.

A plane carrying Canadians from Wuhan, China, has landed at a military base in Ontario where they will spend 14 days under quarantine.

The evacuation flight was arranged by the Canadian government. All of Canada's evacuees will stay at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Trenton, Ontario, where they will be monitored for the virus that has caused hundreds of deaths in Wuhan.

Several governments have arranged similar flights including the U.S. and are requiring quarantines for the maximum incubation period of the virus to prevent local outbreaks.


8:30 p.m.

Hong Kong may jail or fine anyone who fails to observe the two-week quarantine for arrivals from mainland China starting Saturday.

Hong Kong has refused to completely seal its border with mainland China but hopes the quarantine will dissuade cross-border travelers. It also applies to travelers coming from other countries who had been to mainland China in the past 14 days.

Hong Kong residents will be allowed to quarantine themselves at home while foreigners must stay in hotels or their arranged accommodations. Those without any plans will be sent to quarantine camps.

Workers in logistic services such as truck drivers or flight crews will be exempt.

Those who don't observe the quarantine could face up to six months in jail.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung urged citizens to exercise self-discipline in complying with the quarantine and said random checks will be conducted. He said the quarantine would not affect the flow of goods from the mainland, and that there was no need for panic buying.


7:45 p.m.

The director-general of the World Health Organization says a drop in the number of new virus cases for two days is “good news” but cautions against reading too much into that.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke Friday at a technical briefing to the U.N. health agency’s executive board. “The numbers could go up again ... but the last two days were showing a declining trend.”

China reported 31,161 cases in mainland China in its update Friday. The rise of 3,143 was the lowest daily increase since at least Tuesday.

Tedros also reported that in response to his appeal earlier this week for more countries to share more patient and other information about the outbreaks in their countries, not all countries had provided the requested information.

“There are some countries who have yet to send detailed case reports to WHO,” he said. “We urge those member states to share that information immediately.”


6:30 p.m.

Singapore has raised its public heath alert status to orange and says three new cases of a virus have no clear source of infection.

The health ministry said Friday the three new cases were in Singaporeans who have no travel history to China nor links to previous cases but two of them visited Malaysia last month.

It said the city state, which now has 33 cases, has "planned for such a scenario involving community spread" and will introduce additional precautions.

The ministry is advising large events be canceled or attendees strictly screened. Employers are required to conduct daily health checks such as checking workers' temperatures, and it urged companies to plan for further steps such as allowing staff to telecommute or segregating workers.

The ministry previously said it was investigating a business conference last month where attendees appear to have contracted the virus.

A Malaysian and two South Koreans who attended the meeting tested positive, and Britain said Friday that its third confirmed case was a man who attended a conference in Singapore. The BBC said the man attended the same conference at the Grand Hyatt Singapore, which disinfected public areas upon learning of the cases.


3:45 p.m.

One of the 56 Italians repatriated this week from Wuhan, the epicenter of the viral outbreak in central China, has tested positive for the disease.

Health officials in the Lazio region that includes Rome say the patient has been moved from a military facility to the Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in the capital, where two Chinese tourists with the virus are being treated.

Italian media report that the patient is a 29-year-old unmarried researcher.


2:10 p.m.

A plane carrying Canadian citizens from Wuhan, China, has landed in Vancouver.

The evacuation flight organized by the Canadian government is refueling in Vancouver before flying to a military base in Ontario.

Several dozen more Canadian passengers left China on board a United States government flight that departed a few hours later.

All 176 evacuees from Wuhan will spend 14 days under quarantine at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where they will be monitored to see if they have contracted the virus.

Canada has now six confirmed cases and the U.S. 12.


12: 55 p.m.

The Asian Development Bank says it will distribute $2 million to strengthen measures to detect and respond to the virus in China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

The bank said Friday that the money will pay for diagnostic and laboratory equipment and for improved outbreak surveillance and response, especially in rural areas.

The viral outbreak that began in China's central Hubei province has infected more than 31,400 people worldwide. China confirmed 31,161 cases and 636 deaths as of Friday. More than 310 cases have been confirmed outside mainland China, including two deaths in Hong Kong and the Philippines.


12:30 p.m.

China's official news agency says President Xi Jinping has urged the U.S. to “respond reasonably" to the virus outbreak in a phone call with President Donald Trump.

China's foreign ministry has previously complained that the U.S. was flying its citizens out of the worst-hit city of Wuhan but not providing any assistance to China.

More generally, China has said other countries, many of whom have imposed travel bans or quarantines on travelers from China, should follow WHO recommendations on reacting proportionately to the threat.

The White House says Trump “expressed confidence in China’s strength and resilience in confronting the challenge" of the outbreak in his conversation with Xi.

Communist Party newspaper Global Times says Xi told Trump China has “full confidence and capability to overcome" the outbreak and that the “long-term positive trend of the Chinese economy remains unchanged."


10:55 a.m.

Japan's fourth chartered flight has returned to Tokyo from Wuhan, the epicenter of a viral outbreak in central China, carrying 198 Japanese evacuees and their Chinese spouses.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Friday that so far nobody was seen having obvious symptoms of the coronavirus infection. He says they will be all screened at a hospital before being sent to a government facility near Tokyo for quarantine.

At 86, Japan now has the highest number of cases outside mainland China. On Friday, Japan reported 41 more cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship.


10:10 a.m.

Art Basel Hong Kong, a major cultural and business event for the city, has been canceled amid the virus outbreak.

The annual art fair, which drew more than 80,000 people last year, had been scheduled to take place from March 19 to 21.

Organizers say "our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected around the world. We remain committed to Hong Kong and look forward to welcoming you to the next edition of Art Basel Hong Kong, which will take place March 25 to March 27, 2021."

It's the latest in a range of cultural, academic and sporting events canceled or postponed in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere because of the outbreak. Tourism is also down considerably and internal travel within China off by around 70%.

Hong Kong has reported 22 cases of the virus and has ordered a 14-day quarantine for all travelers entering the city from mainland China starting Saturday.

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