A new viral illness being watched with a wary eye around the globe accelerated its spread in China on Sunday with 56 deaths so far, while the U.S. Consulate in the city at the epicenter announced it will evacuate its personnel and some private citizens aboard a charter flight.
China's health minister said the country was entering a "crucial stage" as "it seems like the ability of the virus to spread is getting stronger."
Ma Xiaowei declined to estimate how long it would take to bring the situation under control, but said travel restrictions and other strict measures should bring results "at the lowest cost and fastest speed."
President Xi Jinping on Saturday called the outbreak a grave situation and said the government was stepping up efforts to restrict travel and public gatherings while rushing medical staff and supplies to the city at the center of the crisis, Wuhan, which remains on lockdown with no flights, trains or buses in or out.
The epidemic has revived memories of the SARS outbreak that originated in China and killed nearly 800 as it spread around the world in 2002 and 2003. Its spread has come amid China's busiest travel period of the year, when millions crisscross the country or head abroad for the Lunar New Year holiday.
The latest figures reported Sunday morning cover the previous 24 hours and mark an increase of 15 deaths and 688 cases for a total of 1,975 infections.
The government also reported five cases in Hong Kong, two in Macao and three in Taiwan. Small numbers of cases have been found in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France and Australia.
The U.S. has confirmed cases in Washington state, Chicago, and most recently Southern California. The latest patient announced Saturday night traveled from Wuhan and is in isolation at a hospital and in good condition.
Canada said it discovered its first case, a man in his 50s who was in Wuhan before flying to Toronto.
A notice from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said there would be limited capacity to transport U.S. citizens on a Tuesday flight from Wuhan that will proceed directly to San Francisco. It said that in the event there are not enough seats, priority will be given to to individuals "at greater risk from coronavirus."
The French Consulate also was considering an evacuation of its nationals from the city. It said it's working on arranging a bus service to help French citizens leave Wuhan.
French automaker PSA Group said it will evacuate its employees from Wuhan, quarantine them and then bring them to France.
Japan was also making preparations to fly its nationals out of Wuhan.
Chinese travel agencies have been told to halt all group tours, and concern is growing over the potential impact of millions of people traveling back to the cities after the Lunar New Year holiday ends on Thursday.
China's National Health Commission said anyone traveling from Wuhan is now required to register with community health stations and quarantine themselves at home for 14 days — the virus' maximum incubation period.
Beijing has decided to delay the start of classes after the Lunar New Year holiday ends, the official Beijing Daily reported on its website. That will extend to all schools in the capital from kindergartens to universities.
Hong Kong announced similar measures on Saturday and on Sunday two of that territory's biggest attractions, Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park, announced they were closing for the time being.
In the heart of the outbreak where 11 million residents are already on lockdown, Wuhan banned most vehicle use, including private cars, in downtown areas starting Sunday. The city will assign 6,000 taxis to neighborhoods to help people get around if they need to.
China cut off trains, planes and other links to the city Jan' 22, and has steadily expanded the lockdown to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million — greater than that of New York, London, Paris and Moscow combined.
Wuhan is building two makeshift hospitals with about 1,000 beds each to handle the growing number of patients. The city has said the first is expected to be completed Feb. 3.
Medical workers in Wuhan have been among those infected and local media reported a doctor died on Saturday morning. The 62-year-old physician was hospitalized on Jan. 18 and died a week later.
Xinhua also said medical supplies are being rushed to the city, including 14,000 protective suits, 110,000 pairs of gloves and masks and goggles.
Videos have circulated online showing throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for examinations and there have been complaints that family members had been turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.
The National Health Commission said it is bringing in medical teams to help handle the outbreak and the Chinese military dispatched 450 medical staff, some with experience in past outbreaks, including SARS and Ebola, Xinhua reported.
The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal.
First detected last month, the virus is believed to have originated in a type of wild animal sold at a Wuhan market to be consumed as food.
Chinese authorities announced a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals Sunday, saying they will "severely investigate and punish" violators. They also called on the public to refrain from eating wild animal meat.
Investigators are closely observing whether the virus was mutating, but thus far found "no obvious signs," that it is doing so, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, Gao Fu, told reporters.
That could make it easier to develop vaccines against the virus, something the center is already working on. Xinhua quoted center official Xu Wenbo as saying the they had isolated the virus and were identifying seed strain.
The rapid increase in reported deaths and illnesses does not necessarily mean the crisis is getting worse but could reflect better monitoring and reporting of the virus. Those killed by the virus have mostly been middle-aged or elderly people, sometimes suffering from other conditions that weaken their ability to fight back.
It is not clear how lethal the new coronavirus is or even whether it is as dangerous as the ordinary flu, which kills tens of thousands of people every year in the U.S. alone.
The United Nations decried "continued blatant violations" by several countries of an arms embargo on war-torn Libya, flying in the face of recent pledges made last week at an international conference in Berlin.
The U.N. support mission in Libya didn't name any specific nations, but said they included "several who participated in the Berlin Conference." Saturday's statement said these countries were supplying advanced weapons, armored vehicles and foreign fighters.
Libya sits on Africa's Mediterranean coast, and is divided between rival governments, each supported by various armed militias and foreign backers. It has the ninth largest known oil reserves in the world and the biggest oil reserves in Africa.
The weak but U.N.-recognized government in the capital Tripoli is backed by Turkey, and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy. Rival forces loyal to military commander Khalifa Hifter receive support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia.
"Over the last ten days, numerous cargo and other flights have been observed landing at Libyan airports in the western and eastern parts of the country providing the parties with advanced weapons, armored vehicles, advisers and fighters," the U.N. statement said.
The U.N. warned that continuing to funnel arms into the conflict threatens the "fragile truce" in Tripoli. Hifter's forces have laid siege to the capital since last April. A cease-fire was brokered earlier this month by Russia and Turkey.
At the Berlin summit, many world powers with an interest in Libya pledged to halt foreign interference and honor the U.N. arms embargo.
Among those who attended the Berlin conference were Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President Emmanuel Macron, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The peace push followed a surge in Hifter's offensive against Tripoli, which threatened to plunge Libya into chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that ousted and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Earlier this month, powerful tribal groups loyal to Hifter also seized several large oil export terminals along the eastern coast as well as southern oil fields. The closure of Libya's major oil fields and production facilities has resulted in losses of more than $255 million in the six-day period ending Jan. 23, the country's national oil company said Saturday.
Britain officially leaves the European Union on Jan. 31 after a debilitating political period that has bitterly divided the nation since the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Difficult negotiations setting out the new relationship between Britain and its European neighbors will continue throughout 2020.
This series of stories chronicles Britain's tortured relationship with Europe from the post-World War II years to the present.
With Tony Blair's departure as prime minister in 2007, pro-Europeans lost a key voice at the heart of government. His successor, long-time Treasury chief Gordon Brown, was far more lukewarm. He even turned up late for the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, which amended the existing EU Treaties and included for the first time a mechanism by which a country could leave the EU.
For the record, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty stated that any member state "may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements." Its author Lord Kerr didn't think the U.K. would be the country to use it.
Brown had other things on its mind. His time at the helm was marked by the greatest peacetime shock to afflict the global economy since the depression of the 1930s. Following the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008, the financial crisis went global.
Banks around the world, including big U.K. names such as Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, had to be bailed out by the taxpayer. Britain endured its deepest recession since World War II. Though Brown won plaudits for his handling of the crisis, he lost the 2010 general election, ushering in a coalition between a euroskeptical Conservative Party and the very pro-EU Liberal Democrats.
With many in his party increasingly vexed by EU membership and with the UK Independence Party making headway with its demand for a fresh vote on Britain's membership of the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron was under pressure to show his euroskeptical teeth. In 2011, he vetoed an EU treaty designed to help stabilize the euro, which was fighting for its life following a debt crisis, particularly in Greece. Cameron eventually decided that a referendum promise would help bind his party — much like Harold Wilson had done with his Labour Party back in 1975.
Following the Wilson playbook, Cameron said in a speech in January 2013 that another referendum should take place after a renegotiation that would bring back powers to Britain from the EU. He said democratic consent for the EU in Britain was "wafer thin" and that another referendum was needed.
"I believe in confronting this issue, shaping it, leading the debate," he said. "Not simply hoping a difficult situation will go away."
The pledge though depended on the Conservatives winning a majority at the ensuing election, something they hadn't done since 1992. Most pollsters thought the election would result in another hung Parliament or of Labour returning to power. In the event, Cameron did win that Conservative majority.
Another referendum was on.
Working against the clock in freezing temperatures, Turkish rescue teams pulled more survivors from collapsed buildings Sunday, days after a powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit the country's east.
Authorities said the death toll rose to at least 35 people.
Turkish television showed Ayse Yildiz, 35, and her 2-year-old daughter Yusra being dragged out of the rubble of a collapsed apartment building in the city of Elazig. They had been trapped for 28 hours after the earthquake struck on Friday night.
The magnitude 6.8 quake also injured over 1,600 people but 45 survivors have been pulled alive from the rubble so far, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference Sunday in Istanbul.
As overnight temperatures dropped to -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), emergency teams set up more than 9,500 tents for displaced residents and distributed 17,000 hot meals.
Rescue teams concentrated their efforts in the city's Mustafa Pasa neighborhood and the nearby town of Sivrice, the closest residential area to the quake's epicenter.
Nearly 680 aftershocks rocked the region as more than 3,500 rescue experts scrambled through wrecked buildings to reach survivors, working around the clock. A magnitude 4.3 quake hit also neighboring Malatya province on Sunday morning, the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said.
The agency said 76 buildings were destroyed and more than 1,000 damaged in the quake. Unmanned aerial drones were being used to survey damaged neighborhoods and coordinate rescue efforts.
Erdogan said every effort was being made to alleviate conditions and promised to house displaced residents as soon as possible.
"Turkey has begun to heal the wounds of this great disaster in unity, togetherness and coming together," he said.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu promised financial help for the victims of the quake.
The president visited the disaster zone on Saturday to inspect the rescue operation, meet with injured people in the hospital and attend the funeral of a mother and son.
Erdogan also condemned what he called a "smear campaign" on social media by those questioning the Turkish government's preparations for earthquakes. A prosecutor in Ankara has opened an investigation into social media posts about Friday's quake.
Earthquakes are frequent in Turkey, which sits atop two major fault lines.
Across Turkey, there was an outpouring of support for victims of the quake. Some soccer clubs announced they would donate the receipts of their weekend matches while fans of the Fenerbahce soccer club threw scarves and hats on to the pitch during a game in Istanbul, chanting "Cold Elazig, Fenerbahce is with you!"
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Sunday that 104 people were receiving hospital treatment after the quake, 34 of them in intensive care but not in critical condition.
Victims of the quake were taking refugee in tents, mosques, schools, sports halls and student dormitories. Authorities warned people not to return to homes that could be unsafe.
A prison in Adiyaman, 110 kilometers (70 miles) southwest of the epicenter, was evacuated due to damage, with more than 800 prisoners transferred to nearby jails.
Friday's main quake hit at 8:55 p.m in the city that lies 565 kilometers (350 miles) east of Ankara. It's not the first time Elazig has seen a fatal quake — a magnitude 6.0 earthquake killed 51 people there in 2010.
Turkey's worst quake in decades came in 1999, when a pair of strong earthquakes struck northwest Turkey, killing around 18,000 people.
The German military resumed training Iraqi troops in the country's Kurdish north on Sunday, about three weeks after it was suspended following the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad.
The military said the commander of the international operation fighting the Islamic State group lifted the suspension. Germany resumed training in Irbil on Sunday morning together with its partners. The Bundeswehr has about 90 soldiers in Irbil.
However, Germany's training mission in central Iraq is still suspended and there was no immediate word on whether or when it might resume. Germany flew 35 soldiers out of Iraq from bases in Taji and Baghdad on Jan. 7, most of them to neighboring Jordan. That was described as a temporary measure.
The decision was made after the Jan. 3 killing by the United States of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani drastically raised regional tensions and escalated a crisis between Washington and Tehran.