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The Latest: Russia closing its land border with China


BEIJING – The Latest on the outbreak of a new virus from China (all times local):

11 p.m.

Russia is closing its land border with China, similar to steps taken by Mongolia and North Korea, to guard against a new viral outbreak.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin issued the decree Thursday, ordering the 2,600-mile land border with China closed starting Friday. It had been de facto closed because of the Lunar New Year holiday, but Russian authorities said the closure would be extended until March 1.

Train traffic between the countries was halted except for one train connecting Moscow and Beijing. But no decision has been made about air traffic between Russia and China. Some countries have reduced flights and airlines have halted them because of the new virus that has sickened thousands in central China.

Russia has not confirmed any cases of the virus. The dozens of cases outside China mostly have been in people who visited Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

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10 p.m.

A group of eminent experts says the world needs to boost preparedness for outbreaks like the new virus in China, notably through more funding to lesser developed countries.

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board has urged governments — even in countries that have not been affected by the new coronavirus —to “urgently dedicate resources to building their essential preparedness capacities,” and wants researchers to accelerate development of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.

It said donors should “financially support lower resourced countries.”

The board, co-sponsored by the World Bank and World Health Organization, started operating last March and its members include U.S. immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci; Director-General of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention George Gao; and Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova.

The group issued a statement Thursday expressing concern “that many countries remain unprepared” and urging leaders to act immediately to ensure they have what's necessary to respond to the virus.

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10 p.m.

South Korea has sent a chartered plane to China to bring home people from the center of the new coronavirus outbreak.

The aircraft departed Thursday night en route to Wuhan Airport. Several countries are trying to arrange similar flights to get their citizens out of the city.

When the plane returns, the South Korean returnees will be quarantined in one of two temporary living facilities for 14 days. Residents of Asan and Jincheon strongly protested the government's decision to quarantine the returnees in their hometowns.

Second Vice Foreign Minister Lee Tae-ho said the returnees “are essentially asymptomatic” so the government was trying to bring them home while strengthening safeguards.

Lee also said the government was stepping up coordination with China to return other South Koreans who wanted to return home as well.

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9:30 p.m.

Indonesia's government says it is preparing to evacuate nearly 250 Indonesians from China's Hubei province due to a viral outbreak.

An official statement from his office said President Joko Widodo issued the instructions for the evacuation after a Cabinet meeting Thursday.

“The Chinese government is ready to facilitate the repatriation of Indonesian citizens from areas affected" by a new coronavirus, a foreign ministry statement said. Several other countries have made similar plans.

The government said it was making domestic preparations and that an Indonesian Embassy team in China was helping facilitate with travel and documents.

Indonesia was going to send two Boeing 737s and a military C130 Hercules aircraft for the evacuation, which Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said was expected to be done on Saturday.

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9: 20 p.m.

Britain says a delayed repatriation flight for 200 U.K. nationals in Wuhan will take off from the Chinese city on Friday.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says Chinese authorities have confirmed that the evacuation flight can leave at 0500 local time.

The U.K.-government chartered plane had been due to return to Britain on Thursday, but the flight was delayed by because permissions form the Chinese government had not come through.

The returning Britons will be quarantined for 14 days on arrival.

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9 p.m.

Singapore has reported three more cases of a new virus, all involving women from the Chinese city hardest-hit in the outbreak.

The confirmations Thursday increases the number of infections in Singapore to 13.

The health ministry said a 31-year-old woman traveling with a man previously diagnosed tested positive late Wednesday.

A 37-year-old Chinese woman traveling with her family also tested positive Wednesday night.

On Thursday, a 73-year-old Chinese woman who is visiting Singapore with her family tested positive, it said. Despite the rising cases, the ministry said there was currently “no evidence of community spread in Singapore.”

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7 p.m.

A passenger plane has left Portugal en route to China to pick up about 350 Europeans from a virus-hit region.

The A380 plane took off Thursday morning from a former military airport in Beja, southeast of Lisbon.

Captain Antonios Efthymiou said it would pick up doctors and additional crew in Paris before heading to Hanoi, Vietnam, and then China.

He told Portuguese media it would bring back about 350 Europeans of various nationalities.

Efthymiou described the flight as “a humanitarian mission.” He said the crew would take special medical precautions, but he did not elaborate.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said the flight was coordinated between European Union countries and Chinese authorities.

The United States and Japan have made similar flights to evacuate their citizens from the city of Wuhan, where illnesses from a new coronavirus have been concentrated.

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6:25 p.m.

Sweden's IKEA has announced all of its stories in mainland China will remain closed for now to protect its customers and staff from the coronavirus outbreak.

The furniture and home goods retailer is a favorite destination of Chinese city dwellers both for shopping and for just hanging out.

The company said in a statement posted on its website that the stories would remain closed from Jan. 30 onward after shutting a week ago for the Lunar New Year holiday.

It asked everyone to please excuse the inconvenience. IKEA's website lists 33 outlets in China, including one in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak of the virus, which can cause pneumonia and other severe respiratory symptoms.

The company said, “We will pay close attention to the epidemic situation, and the stores will be closed until further notice."

It also said, “We believe that the viruses will not cut off our love of life. Hand in hand, the epidemic will be defeated!"

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6 p.m.

South Korea has confirmed two more cases of a new virus, including the first locally spread case.

The new cases reported Thursday bring South Korea's total to six cases of a new coronavirus that has sickened thousands in China.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a 56-year-old man was infected after contacting an earlier patient.

The other new case was a 32-year-old man who returned from a business trip to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, on Jan. 24.

Both men are in isolation and undergoing treatment.

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5:45 p.m.

Spain’s national airline Iberia says it is halting its three weekly round-trip flights between Madrid and Shanghai because of the coronavirus health alert.

The company said in a statement late Wednesday that the suspension would start Friday and continue through the month of February, and could be extended.

It said ticketed passengers could change their flight dates or be reimbursed. Iberia said it would seek alternative arrangements for those passengers looking to complete booked return journeys within the suspension period.

Spanish health authorities said they were finalizing preparations to evacuate some 20 Spanish citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak. They will be quarantined in an unspecified hospital for two weeks.

Spain has no confirmed cases of the virus so far.

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5:30 p.m.

Cambodia's leader has urged citizens to remain calm about the new virus from China, which has been confirmed in a single case of a visitor from Wuhan, while threatening to kick out reporters or officials seen wearing a face mask.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a live televised address Thursday that people should not be scared because the real illness they faced was fear, based on inaccurate information on social media.

"The prime minister does not wear a mask, so why should you be wearing a mask here," he said.

Hun Sen, who very actively posts on his own Facebook account, was critical about misinformation about the virus that had spread on that platform in Cambodia.

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4:45 p.m.

India's health ministry says it has detected its first case of the novel coronavirus in the southern state of Kerala. A student who had been studying at Wuhan University tested positive for the virus.

The ministry says in a statement that the student has been kept in isolation and is being monitored at a hospital. It's not clear when the student returned to India from China.

Passengers who have travelled to China recently are being screened for symptoms in at least 20 Indian airports. The health ministry says that isolation wards have been identified in different hospitals across the country in order to prepare for a potential outbreak.

The Indian government said Wednesday that it is planning to operate two flights to evacuate Indians from Hubei in China and isolate them for 28 days in the Indian capital of New Delhi. The health ministry says that it was planning to airlift only those who don't appear to have symptoms of the flu in order to minimize the risk of the infection spreading.

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4:25 p.m.

The Philippines has confirmed its first case of a new virus that has infected thousands in China.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque said the 38—year-old Chinese woman had traveled to the Philippines from Wuhan, China, via Hong Kong on Jan. 21. She sought treatment on Jan. 25 due to a mild cough.

Duque said at a news conference the woman was confirmed positive from test results Thursday and currently has no symptoms.

The outbreak of the new type of coronavirus surfaced in the central city of Wuhan in December.

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4:20 p.m.

Korean Air says it will cut or suspend some of its flights to mainland China starting on Sunday as demands decrease amid a growing coronavirus crisis.

South Korea’s largest airline on Thursday said it will suspend flights from Incheon International Airport to Huangshan, Zhangjiajie, Changsha and Kunming as well as flights from Busan to Beijing and Nanjing and from Jeju to Beijing. The company will reduce the number of flights from Incheon to Beijing, Qingdao and Shenyang and from Busan to Qingdao and Shanghai.

Korean Air had operated four flights a week to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, before suspending them on Jan. 23. The company says flights to Wuhan will continue to be grounded at least until March 27.

On Wednesday, Asiana Airlines, South Korea’s second-largest carrier, said it will suspend flights to the Chinese cities of Guilin, Changsha and Haikou starting next month.

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4:10 p.m.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging "closer coordination" with Chinese authorities to help identify people traveling from China to African nations who might have the new virus.

The statement on Wednesday came as the World Health Organization expressed concerns about "weaknesses" in disease surveillance and control in parts of Africa.

The Africa CDC acknowledged the problem earlier this week, saying it's possible there are already cases on the continent.

No cases in Africa have been confirmed, but a growing number of suspected cases in several countries has been reported.

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2:40 p.m.

South Korean police say protesters have thrown plastic water bottles and paper cups at the country's vice health minister to oppose plans to quarantine Wuhan evacuees in their neighborhood.

The rally took place Wednesday in the southern town of Jincheon, where residents protested the government plan to isolate in their neighborhood some of the South Koreans who will be evacuated from the Chinese city at the center of a new virus.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip visited the area to explain the plan. Police said Thursday it wasn’t clear if Kim was hit by objects thrown at him.

Photos showed some protesters grabbing Kim’s arms while his upper jacket was partially ripped.

Officials say Kim was apparently unhurt and attended a parliamentary committee meeting on Thursday.

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1:10 p.m.

A Japanese official says 13 of 210 evacuees who returned from the virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan to Tokyo had cough, fever or other health issues and are expected to be sent to designated hospitals.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga says Japan is negotiating to evacuate some 300 more citizens and their families from Wuhan as early as Thursday.

Shigeru Omi, the former regional director for the World Health Organization who now heads Japan Community Health Care Organization, said that two evacuees who tested positive for the virus without showing any symptoms could have spread the disease further. He urged Japanese health authorities to step up surveillance measures based on that assumption.

Japan has confirmed 11 cases, including two suspected human-to-human transmissions in people who had not visited China.

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1 p.m.

New Zealand's government is chartering a plane from national carrier Air New Zealand to get people home from Wuhan.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters says the plane will take up to 300 passengers. He says officials are working through operational requirements with authorities from both countries and that the flight is still subject to approval from China.

He says any spare seats would be offered to Australian or Pacific island citizens. New Zealand officials are preparing to isolate incoming passengers for up to two weeks.

Singapore meanwhile says it flew back 92 of its citizens from Wuhan on Thursday.