The World Health Organisation will lead a mission to China this weekend to start investigating the COVID-19 outbreak.
The group of 12 Chinese and 12 international members will focus on how the new coronavirus is spreading and its severity.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The goal of the joint mission is to rapidly inform the next steps in the COVID-19 response and preparedness activities in China and globally.”
COVID-19 is the medical name for the acute respiratory disease caused by the virus.
“Particular attention will be paid to understanding transmission of the virus, the severity of disease and the impact of ongoing response measures,” Mr Tedros added.
- A total of 1,525 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus – most in mainland China but one each in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan
- 67,079 cases have been confirmed since the virus started in mid-December in Wuhan, with 63,866 in mainland China, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organisation
- There were 5,090 suspected new cases recorded in mainland China, Chinese authorities said on Friday
It comes as people returning to Beijing were told they would be punished if they did not isolate themselves for two weeks to stop the spread of the virus.
City authorities, quoted in the Beijing Daily newspaper, said: “From now on, all those who have returned to Beijing should stay at home or submit to group observation for 14 days after arriving.
“Those who refuse to accept home or centralised observation and other prevention and control measures will be held accountable under law.”
Anybody returning to the Chinese capital will have to submit travel plans to their community in advance, the notice said.
It was unclear how this would affect foreign visitors arriving from outside China.
Other major coronavirus updates:
- The first case in Africa was confirmed on Friday after a “foreigner” tested positive in Egypt
- Two British Labour MPs cancelled all engagements after they were among 250 people at the UK Bus Summit on 6 February which was also attended by a patient with COVID-19
- A North Sea oil rig worker was placed in isolation as he was tested for COVID-19 after returning from Thailand
- A ninth person in the UK was confirmed as having the virus on Sunday. The Chinese woman had flown from China and walked into a London hospital’s A&E
- All 2,257 passengers and crew on the MS Westerdam cruise ship were at last allowed to dock in Cambodia, having been stranded for two weeks after ports in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Guam turned them away over fears they would spread the new virus, despite nobody on board testing positive
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About 500 million people in China are affected by travel restrictions, as more cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, imposed lockdowns this week in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Last week President Xi Jinping warned top officials efforts to contain the virus had gone too far and were threatening the economy.
People returned from the Chinese New Year holiday on Monday, but cities remain empty, with Shanghai and Beijing’s streets and subways largely deserted, with many shops and restaurants empty or shut.
Wuhan, the city of 11 million people where the outbreak began, is under the most severe lockdown, with all public transport, taxis and ride-hailing services shut down.
Volunteer drivers are risking their own health by secretly ferrying medical staff and those in vital jobs to and from work after responding to requests on messaging groups.
Others are desperately trying to find accommodation for medical workers, many who have come from across China.