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The Latest: WHO to send mission to virus-hit China

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

12:15 a.m.

The head of the World Health Organization says it received a response from China on Saturday on the dispatch of a WHO-led international mission to the country, where a new virus has emerged.

Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the team leader will leave on Monday or Tuesday and the rest of the experts will follow. Asked whether members of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be part of the team, he replied, "We hope so."

Tedros wouldn't immediately name the leader or the rest of the team, or give further details, saying that WHO will “publicize everything as soon as we're ready.”

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10 p.m.

Singapore's prime minister is urging citizens to stay calm following a wave of panic buying that emptied many supermarket shelves of essential goods after the government raised the risk alert level over a new virus.

Pictures on social media showed people flocking to buy toilet paper, canned food and instant noodles from supermarkets.

In a video posted on social media Saturday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said there was no need to panic because there are ample supplies and “we are not locking down the city or confining everybody to stay at home.”

He said Singapore last raised the health alert to orange in 2009 during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak, and did so again now to step up precautionary measures. He said the city is much better prepared now after dealing with the SARS epidemic in 2003 that killed 33 people in the city-state.

Lee asked citizens to have courage, warning that “fear can do more harm than the virus.” He said the “real test is to our social cohesion and psychological resilience.”

Hours after Lee’s message, officials confirmed seven new local cases, including two more citizens who attended a company conference at the Grand Hyatt last month. The meeting was attended by delegates from China. Several participants from Malaysia, South Korea and Britain have also diagnosed with the virus. There are now 40 confirmed cases in the city-state.

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7 p.m.

Hong Kong has quarantined 161 people who arrived from mainland China on Saturday as a new emergency measure to stem the spread of the virus begins.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said nearly 90% of those quarantined are Hong Kong citizens. She said 148 are confined at home, 11 at hotels and two at quarantine camps.

The international financial hub has shut many border checkpoints but refused to completely seal its border because it relies on mainland China for food and other goods. It instead imposed a 14-day quarantine starting Saturday on all people arriving from mainland China to dissuade cross-border travel. Workers in logistic services such as truck drivers and flight crews are exempted.

Lam warned Saturday that random checks will be conducted and those who violate the quarantine will face up to six months in jail and a fine.

Meanwhile, health authorities said they would test over 1,800 crew members on the World Dream cruise ship for the virus. The ship has been under quarantine since Wednesday after eight mainland passengers on an earlier voyage tested positive for the virus. Tests on more than 30 crew members and passengers who showed symptoms have been negative so far.

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5 p.m.

France has confirmed five additional cases of the new virus spreading from China, including one child.

The announcement Saturday by Health Minister Agnes Buzyn brings the total number of people confirmed with the virus in France to 11.

The new cases were identified in the Alpine resort town of Contamines-Montjoie near Mont Blanc. Buzyn said they appear linked to a British person who stayed there in late January and was later confirmed to have the virus after returning to Britain.

French authorities are working with international partners to trace everyone who was in close contact with the British person and with the newly infected people in France.

The French government has brought hundreds of people from European and African countries back from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Those who stayed in France are in quarantine.

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1:30 p.m.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing says a 60-year-old American citizen diagnosed with the new virus died in Wuhan, apparently the first American fatality of the outbreak.

The embassy said in a brief statement Saturday that the American was confirmed to have been infected by the coronavirus and died at a hospital in Wuhan, the center of the outbreak. It said it would have no further comment out of respect for the family's privacy.

China announced that the death toll on the mainland increased to 722 on Saturday, including the American. It said 3,399 more people had been diagnosed with the virus over the last 24 hours, reversing two days of declines, raising the total number of cases on the mainland to 34,546.

Associated Press

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