The World Health Organisation will lead a mission to China this weekend amid increasingly frantic efforts to find a cure for the ongoing coronavirus outbreak – as the number of dead topped 1,500.

The group, which will include 12 Chinese and 12 international members, will focus on how COVID-19 – the official name of the disease caused by the virus – is spreading and why its severity varies from person to person.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, 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.

“Particular attention will be paid to understanding transmission of the virus, the severity of disease and the impact of ongoing response measures.”

Some 1,525 people are now known to have been killed since the crisis started in Wuhan in January

Most of those have been in mainland China along with one each in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan.

The new WHO mission was announced as it also emerged Egypt has reported a case making it the first country in Africa to be effected.

Officials have long feared the disease finding its way to the continent. They say weaker health systems and fewer isolation facilities there could not only result in far greater numbers of deaths but may give the virus the space to mutate into something even more deadly.

In other developments, the Chinese government has announced anyone arriving in Beijing must self-isolate for a fortnight, while Doctors Without Borders said it was sending 3.5 tonnes of medical protective equipment for doctors struggling to deal with the onslaught of patients in Wuhan.

In the UK – where nine people have been diagnosed with the illness – a doctor’s surgery in Portsmouth was put in lockdown for a deep cleaning late Friday after a woman suspected of being infected with coronavirus visited for a check-up.

Two Labour MPs, Alex Sobel and Lillian Greenwood, remain in self-isolation after attending a conference in London which was also visited by someone later found to be carrying the virus.


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