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Live updates: Coronavirus cases surge again in China; more than 1,700 medical workers infected China’s leaders shake up political ranks as coronavirus cases pass 63,000; Japan announces second virus fatality outside China
(32 minutes later)
China again reported a big jump in coronavirus cases Friday after changing its methodology for diagnosing and counting infections, denting hopes that the deadly outbreak could be petering out. China’s Communist Party removed senior officials in the virus-stricken province of Hubei, as the country’s leadership looks to tighten control over its epidemic response and assuage public outrage over authorities’ handling of the coronavirus crisis.
With an additional 5,000 reported Friday, the number of cases in mainland China has now surged past 63,000, and the economic fallout is mounting. The latest casualties are flower sellers in the country, some of whom have seen their sales fall up to 95 percent on Valentine’s Day. The ruling party said Thursday that it fired Jiang Chaoliang, a former banker who had been party secretary of Hubei province since 2016. He will be replaced by Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong. Ma Guoqiang, the party boss overseeing Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, has been replaced by Wang Zhonglin, an official from eastern Shandong province.
More places in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, are enacting “wartime” measures, such as sealing off residential complexes and allowing only essential vehicles on the roads. Authorities in Yunmeng county, where the new steps kicked in Friday morning, said that anyone attempting to breach the lockdown “at compounds, buildings or road connections” would be detained. News of the reshuffle came hours after China announced a significant jump in infection numbers in Hubei. The surge followed a change in official methodology for diagnosing and counting cases, a shift that revived questions about the reliability of China’s data and testing methods.
Here are the latest developments: Here’s what we know:
Beijing announced a new rule requiring all residents returning to the city to self-quarantine for 14 days and warned that those who refused would be punished. Japan reported its first fatality from coronavirus, only the second worldwide outside China. It also announced that 44 more people have tested positive for the new coronavirus on board the quarantined cruise liner Diamond Princess, bringing to 218 the number of infected.
Singapore’s leader warned of a possible recession as the virus and travel curbs slam the regional economy. The country confirmed nine new cases Friday. The political shake-up in Communist Party ranks underscored Chinese leaders’ jitters about the potential for the outbreak to fuel domestic instability.
Japan has said that 10 people evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship are in serious condition, as the cruise industry braces for serious losses over coronavirus fears. China announced about 4,800 new cases and 116 new deaths in Hubei province a day after health officials increased the province’s case numbers by 15,000 when they began taking into account cases diagnosed by doctors using clinical methods.
China’s National Health Commission said more than 1,700 medical workers have been infected with coronavirus, six of whom have died, citing the latest available figures as of Tuesday. Experts said that until China reveals more about its new testing process, it will be difficult to assess what exactly the latest data means. On Thursday, the World Health Organization said that the spike in cases “does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak.”
Egypt announced its first case of coronavirus Friday, marking the first confirmed instance of the virus in Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the 15th case of coronavirus in the United States. The person had been under quarantine in Texas after arriving on a State Department-chartered plane from Wuhan on Feb. 7.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began using five public health labs that usually test for influenza to start testing for coronavirus in the United States this week. The labs are in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. About 5,100 cases of covid-19 were confirmed in China on Thursday and 121 more people died, Chinese health officials said Friday morning. Most of the new cases and deaths continued to be in Hubei province.
The public health labs are part of CDC’s existing flu surveillance network that monitor influenza illness and hospitalizations. Specimens that test negative for flu will be tested for coronavirus, Nancy Messonnier, who heads the coronavirus response at the CDC, said Friday. Officials plan to expand the testing to more labs in the coming weeks to provide an early warning of where the virus may be spreading. More than 63,000 confirmed cases and approximately 1,380 deaths have been reported in China since the outbreak began.
The United States has 15 confirmed cases, mostly in travelers returning from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. CDC officials say they hope aggressive measures such as quarantine can slow the impact of the disease. But they are also preparing for additional cases. Lab tests confirming more coronavirus cases could allow U.S. officials to take additional actions to prevent spread such as canceling big social gatherings and boosting the use of telemedicine and telework. A second Wuhan-based citizen journalist, Fang Bin, has gone missing after he produced public videos about the coronavirus outbreak, Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK reported.
At the same time, flu illnesses have risen sharply in the past few weeks. An extended flu season could add to confusion about whether people are getting sick from the coronavirus or from seasonal flu. Messonnier said there has been an increase in a flu strain that hits children particularly hard. Hospitalization rates for children are as high as they were during the 2017-2018 flu season, one of the worst flu seasons in decades. City firefighters broke down his door on Sunday and a plainclothes police officer arrested him, according to RTHK, which did not cite its sources. Fang also has not posted to his YouTube channel since Sunday.
This season, at least 26 million people have been sickened by the flu in the United States, including 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths. Fang, a businessman, was previously arrested and then released after he published a video of eight body bags outside a hospital. He told The Washington Post at the time that officers had promised to charge him with political crimes.
Dirty looks, deserted restaurants, bullied children this is the reality for many Asian Americans after the outbreak of the coronavirus six weeks ago. China has experienced flickers of freedom of speech during the outbreak, as the country has withheld the tough punishment it normally deals to people who criticize the government. Still, Fang is not the only critic to disappear. Chinese lawyer and citizen journalist Chen Qiushi has been missing for a week after some of his reports on the outbreak circulated worldwide.
Although the epicenter of the illness is in China, where tens of thousands have been affected, there have been only 15 cases in the United States as of Thursday. Still, Asians in America have been subjected to suspicion and ridicule. One of Japan’s state ministers of health, labor and welfare on Friday spoke to people on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship that is docked in Yokohama with at least 218 coronavirus-infected people, according to audio from the visit distributed by a couple on board.
Outbreaks often have been attributed to marginalized groups in society, or the “other,” experts say. Asian Americans are often still seen as “forever foreigners,” no matter the reality of how long they’ve lived in this country. Time and again, they have been blamed for importing diseases. The official, Gaku Hashimoto, said his agency had asked pharmacies to provide medications that the passengers had requested and would set up dedicated phone lines for passengers to manage their prescriptions. He also repeated a previously announced plan to let some high-risk passengers disembark from the ship before the end of the quarantine and temporarily stay in government-provided accommodations.
Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, says other racial and ethnic groups have faced similar scrutiny and discrimination during public health crises. “We understand that everyone is currently confined to the vessel in difficult and inconvenient circumstances due to the covid-19 virus,” Hashimoto said, according to an English translation read by the ship’s captain. “We also understand that there are many people who are hoping to go home as soon as possible and people who have pre-existing medical conditions who are still on board.”
“What you have over history and throughout modern-day outbreaks is people fixing blame on a contagious disease on outsiders,” she said, citing past instances. In 2009, H1N1, or swine flu, was associated with Mexican Americans; in 2003, SARS with Chinese Americans; and in the 1980s, HIV with Haitian Americans. That virus was also called the “the 4H disease,” a reference to the “perceived risk factors” of “Haitians, homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and heroin” users. Hashimoto thanked the passengers and crew members for their “patience and cooperation.”
Read more: “The coronavirus and the long history of blaming ‘the other’ in public health crises” Catholics in Hong Kong received permission from their diocese to forgo Mass on Sundays or weekdays through Feb. 28 to avoid public gatherings that could hasten the spread of covid-19, the Vatican said Thursday. The diocese also canceled its Feb. 26 liturgy to observe Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.
Face masks and hazmat suits don’t exactly set the scene for romance. Live-streamed Masses will be offered so people can participate from home during the next two weeks, which Cardinal John Tong Hon in Hong Kong called “a crucial time to suppress the epidemic.” The Catholic catechism usually requires practitioners to attend Mass on Sundays and specific other days of the year.
But when Valentine’s Day falls in the middle of an epidemic, lovebirds have to make do. For some in China, that has meant finding ways to mark the holiday despite restrictions on movement and restaurant closures. For health workers, it has largely meant sacrificing the special day altogether. Nicolas de Francqueville, a priest running a Hong Kong parish, told Vatican News that the coronavirus outbreak was both a crisis and an opportunity.
In a video published by the Global Times, the English-language newspaper linked to the ruling Communist Party, health workers described how they were spending the day away from their loved ones to help treat patients who have fallen ill. “I hope that in this dangerous time of the virus it can also be an opportunity for Christians, and for everyone, to maybe show more solidarity, to slow down their lives which are usually so busy, so that maybe people can be more with their families, have more time to pray, to reflect on the sense of their lives, perhaps spend more time doing other things,” he said.
Li Tong, who was identified in the video as working at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital, said his wife also works in the hospital as a nurse. “She is very supportive of me coming to the front line to fight the virus,” he said. “I hope she can take good care of the family and protect herself well when working in the hospital. Health officials in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, on Friday announced more than 4,800 new cases of covid-19, including about 3,100 that were clinically diagnosed. They said there were also 116 new deaths.
“Today is really special because it was the first time we didn’t spend Valentine’s Day together, but when I think more patients are getting better under my assistance, I think it is totally worth it,” he added. Hubei had added almost 15,000 cases to its count on Thursday after saying that it would now include infections diagnosed by doctors, instead of only counting those that tested positive in a laboratory. Other Chinese jurisdictions so far have not revised their own diagnosis guidelines.
“I’m not an expressive type you know. But I’d like to say to my wife, I love you! Hope to see you soon!” The total number of confirmed cases in Hubei province now stands at nearly 52,000, accounting for the majority of cases worldwide.
Then he and his colleague began to clap. The San Antonio hospital that received the United States’ 15th coronavirus patient said Thursday that it worked with the CDC to activate extra safety protocols before the patient arrived.
Health workers have faced dangerous conditions throughout the outbreak, with a major uptick in cases among emergency workers reported Friday. Hospital staff privately escorted the person through a remote entrance and kept the person isolated, Methodist Texsan Hospital said in a statement. The patient has mild symptoms of the virus and is in stable condition.
Photos from other major cities showed people in face masks gripping bouquets of flowers. In one photo from an isolation ward in Yangzhou, two health workers completely covered in protective gear held their gloved hands up against a window to make the sign of a heart. The person had been quarantined at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland after arriving Feb. 7 on a State Department-chartered flight from China. After coming down with a fever, the patient tested positive for the coronavirus.
Across China, the virus has taken a devastating toll on businesses that have either closed their doors or experienced a massive drop in customers as travel bans and fears over the spread of the virus have largely confined people to their homes. Eight cases of the virus have been confirmed in California, one in Arizona, one in Washington state, one in Wisconsin, two in Illinois and one in Massachusetts.
Facebook announced Friday that it would cancel a summit it had planned to hold at San Francisco’s Moscone Center in March. The State Department on Thursday said it supports U.S. and international aid and health organizations working to prevent the spread of covid-19 in North Korea, which has long been under economic sanctions from the United States and other countries.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we canceled our Global Marketing Summit due to evolving public health risks related to coronavirus,” Anthony Harrison, a Facebook spokesman, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “The United States is ready and prepared to expeditiously facilitate the approval of assistance from these organizations,” Morgan Ortagus, a department spokesperson, said in a statement.
The annual event brings together Facebook employees from around the world. It was due to take place this year from March 9 to 12. The U.N. Sanctions Committee also has signaled that it would consider any requests from North Korea for exemptions related to combating the coronavirus, Voice of America reported. Since 2006, the United Nations has used sanctions to discourage the country’s nuclear weapons program.
The social media giant is not alone. Earlier in the week, the Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile phone summit, was canceled because of travel disruptions. The event had been scheduled to start on Feb. 24. Although North Korea has not publicly confirmed any coronavirus cases, South Korean news outlets have reported that North Korea has had several suspected infections. Citing sources in the country, the Daily NK reported that five people who died at hospitals in North Korea’s Sinuiju region had the virus.
The cancellations come amid fears that such events could play a major role in proliferating the virus around the world. Attendees at a sales meeting at a hotel in Singapore earlier this month spread the virus to five countries. HONG KONG A new type of protest art is emerging from the coronavirus crisis in Hong Kong. But, as before, the government remains the target.
CAIRO Egypt’s Ministry of Health confirmed Friday that it had detected a case of coronavirus in the country, marking the first known example of the outbreak in Africa. The artwork of dissent became a mainstay amid the pro-democracy demonstrations that erupted last year. Now, artists are turning their gaze and anger toward what is widely seen as a confusing and disorganized response by authorities to the coronavirus outbreak.
A spokesperson for the ministry, Khaled Megahed, said in a statement that a foreign national had tested positive for the coronavirus and that the World Health Organization had been notified. The coronavirus numbers in Hong Kong are a fraction of what has hit the mainland, and its leadership has refused to seal the land border but demanded a 14-day quarantine for anyone coming from the mainland.
Although the person had not shown symptoms, they were tested due to their travel history. The person was subsequently transported to a hospital and they are now under quarantine. The person’s health is stable, Megahed said. That led to a strike by medical workers demanding a full border closure and greater anti-virus protections on the job.
Health officials are taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus. A number of people who came into contact with the patient have also been tested for the novel coronavirus, Megahad said. That has fed worries in Hong Kong that the local outbreak could get worse.
Though they tested negative, they will be placed under a 14-day quarantine as a precautionary measure. The residence where the person was staying was also being sterilized, Megahad said. At the same time, supplies have run low in hospitals. People have waited in lines for hours sometimes overnight to buy masks at the few stores that have them.
The statement did not say where the person was detected or whether they were a resident of Egypt. The virus art is seen as a natural extension from the months of street unrest.
MACAO Visitors arriving in this gaudy Chinese gambling hub are hit with text messages promoting its draw cards: celebrity-chef-branded restaurants and dazzling entertainment shows in one of the dozens of lavish casino resorts. “This is consistent with what we have been doing all along,’’ said Ryan, a product designer who helps showcase the artwork. He gave only his first name, fearing reprisals from authorities.
“Grand Lisboa is looking forward to your visits to our Michelin 3 Stars restaurants!” reads a grammatically imperfect message from the casino complex, whose gold-hued tower was designed to resemble a Brazilian dancer’s feathered headdress. “Exclusive accommodation and transportation offers for your choice!” “At a time like this, instead of organizing rallies, our priority is reminding people to protect themselves,” he added. “Keeping ourselves alive is part of the resistance.”
But no Michelin-starred restaurants were open on a recent visit. Nor were the pastry shops known for Portuguese egg tarts. Luxury stores at several casino resorts The Washington Post visited were shut, too. At the few open shops, bored staff members watched movies on their phones, slept or paced aimlessly. A saleswoman at a Cartier outlet in the Las Vegas Sands-owned Venetian resort said the store had sold nothing in a week. Elsewhere in the complex, empty gondolas were fastened to railings (opera music, however, was still playing). Read more here.
The two-week shutdown, which seems likely to be extended, is unprecedented. Since its handover from Portugal to China in 1999, Macao has been the only Chinese territory where gambling is allowed. The casinos transformed the fortunes of the city of 670,000, whose tourism sector accounts for 80 percent of economic output and whose 41 casinos employ about one-fifth of the workforce. Officials at the University of California at San Diego Medical Center told reporters Thursday that they expect to soon see more people with suspected coronavirus infections. The hospital has three people in isolation, all of whom were evacuated from Wuhan and were temporarily quarantined at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar north of the city before being hospitalized.
“My parents told me this is what Macao looked like before China opened up, when it was quiet, and no one was here,” said 30-year-old Teng Fong Mei, who was operating an egg waffle cart that has been her family’s business for four decades. Sales have dropped more than 80 percent, she said, as she flipped iron griddles filled with dough. Two of the patients have confirmed infections and are among the 15 people in the U.S. who have been identified as having the disease. A third remains under investigation, the hospital said.
Read more: “Macao gambled on a costly casino shutdown. It may emerge a winner from coronavirus.” One of the now-confirmed cases had been taken to the hospital and then returned to the military base in what Randy Taplitz, an infectious disease doctor, called a communication problem. That patient tested positive for the virus and returned to the hospital Monday.
More than 1,700 Chinese medical professionals have been infected with the coronavirus, officials said Friday, a stark reminder of the challenge China faces as it tries to contain the outbreak. Of the two confirmed cases, one patient is in “fair” condition and the other in “very good” condition, Taplitz said. The person still under investigation is in “excellent” condition, she said.
A total of 1,716 Chinese medical workers have been infected as of Feb. 11, accounting for 3.8 percent of the overall confirmed cases, Chinese health authorities said. “If experience has taught us anything, we should anticipate that there will be more individuals,” Taplitz said.
The announcement, which was made in the Communist Party-controlled media, confirmed what many already knew: Front-line workers are falling, hurting the ability of an overburdened public health system to respond. She stressed that the hospital staff is trained in techniques to avoid spreading infections, and other patients at the hospital should not be fearful. Taplitz also said she could not share much information about the patients.
By acknowledging the toll on health professionals, Beijing is trying to signal a level of transparency about the safety on a flash-point issue and letting ordinary people know they share their sense of alarm. “They are obviously aware that they have the infection. They’re grappling with that and what it means,” she said.
“It might raise a red flag about how serious the situation is,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, “and hopefully that leads to a more effective government response.” TORONTO The novel coronavirus is projected to shrink the Canadian economy this quarter, the country’s parliamentary watchdog said Thursday.
But Huang cautioned against seeing the figure as the final word on medical workers, given discrepancies in case reporting so far. Yves Giroux, Canada’s parliamentary budget officer, wrote in a report that while estimates of the “overall impact” of the virus on the economy are still “highly uncertain,” he projected that it will lower Canada’s real gross domestic product by 0.34 percentage points in the first quarter of 2020.
“If it is coming from an official source, we have to take it always with a grain of salt,” he said. The report said that GDP growth will suffer direct hits in industries such as tourism and air transportation, but also be hurt indirectly through supply chain disruptions and weakened commodity prices.
A group of 16 scholars argued that travel bans are an inappropriate response to the coronavirus outbreak, as they violate Article 43 of the International Health Regulations, a binding agreement reached by WHO member states in 2005. Giroux wrote that the impact of the novel coronavirus on Canada’s economy could be different from that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
“In imposing travel restrictions against China during the current outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus disease (covid-19), many countries are violating the IHR,” the scholars write in an article in the Lancet journal that published Thursday. In 2003, SARS killed 44 people in Toronto the greatest number of deaths outside Asia. The outbreak crippled tourism, particularly after the World Health Organization issued an advisory against nonessential travel to Toronto.
While countries “would rather be safe than sorry,” evidence “belies the claim that illegal travel restrictions make countries safer,” they add. The Bank of Canada estimated that SARS shaved off 0.1. percent of Canada’s GDP for 2003. It said that the effects of the virus on the economy were temporary and that most of them were later reversed.
“In the short term, travel restrictions prevent supplies from getting into affected areas, slow down the international public health response, stigmatise entire populations, and disproportionately harm the most vulnerable among us,” the authors write. “In the longer term, countries selecting which international laws to follow encourages other countries to do the same, which in turn undermines the broader rules-based world order.” Unlike the SARS outbreak in 2003, Giroux wrote, Canada is not one of the countries that is most affected by the coronavirus, and its public health officials are better prepared for an epidemic, suggesting that impacts on the travel and accommodation industries could be smaller.
A variety of nations, including the United States, have imposed restrictions on travel to China, especially Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, despite guidance from the WHO to avoid such measures. But, he added, China is more important to the global economy than it was in 2003.
The legal scholars were led by Steven J. Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a professor at York University in Toronto, and Roojin Habibi, a research fellow with the Global Strategy Lab. “Disruptions to China’s production could cause wide-ranging shortages and delays in global supply chains,” Giroux wrote. “Faster transmission of information through social media could also cause larger negative impact on consumer and business confidence.”
Prominent scholars such as Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, were among the authors. President Trump praised China in an interview that aired Thursday, saying it handled the coronavirus outbreak “professionally,” apparently contradicting statements his top economic adviser made earlier in the day calling for more transparency.
Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization said Friday that “it’s still impossible to know” whether patients who recover from the newly named covid-19 are then immune to becoming sick with it again. “We thought there was better transparency coming out of China, but it doesn’t appear to be,” Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, told reporters Thursday.
“It’s too early to tell what the immunity test would be,” Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said at a news conference in Geneva. “It’s impossible to know.” Kudlow questioned the timing of Beijing’s disclosure Wednesday of some 15,000 additional coronavirus cases in Hubei province after implementing new diagnostic criteria there.
Ryan said he expected “that recovered patients would be protected from a further infection,” but that it remained unclear how long the immunity would last and whether it would apply to other coronaviruses as well. “We don’t know if it’s contained in China,” Kudlow said. “We thought they were tailing off in their head count. It turns out that might not be the case. On this particular matter, we are quite disappointed in China’s response.”
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19, has now infected and killed more people than severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, another coronavirus that killed around 800 people during an outbreak in 2002-2003. Overall, however, a higher rate of people who contracted SARS died of it compared with those sick with covid-19, whose severity varies more widely. Covid-19 affects the respiratory system and can put people at risk of bacterial infections there, further raising the risk of deadly complications. Later the same day, in a podcast that aired on iHeartRadio, Trump said China had “handled it professionally, and I think they’re extremely capable,” Reuters reported. When asked if China was being truthful about case numbers, he replied, “Well, you never know. I think they want to put the best face on it.”
Scientists are scrambling to develop a vaccine and anti-viral treatment for covid-19, which can be a costly and time-consuming process. The economic casualties from China’s coronavirus epidemic are mounting as Asian and European auto plants run short of parts, free-spending Chinese tourists stay home and American companies brace for unpredictable turbulence.
Students from several African countries are stranded in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, after their governments declined to arrange chartered flights for them to leave China. That’s just the start of a financial hangover that is expected to linger for months even if the flulike illness is soon brought under control, according to economists and supply chain experts. The Chinese epidemic’s aftereffects will likely cause the global economy to shrink this quarter for the first time since the depths of the 2009 financial crisis, according to Capital Economics in London.
The BBC reported Friday that the Ugandan government determined it was unable to cover the costs of a flight for the more than 100 students now in the city. In addition, Jane Ruth Aceng, the country’s health minister, told lawmakers Thursday that the country was not prepared to treat coronavirus cases. Instead of an evacuation, the government will send about $61,800 to Wuhan to be split among affected Ugandan students, the BBC reported. Chinese factories had been scheduled to reopen on Feb. 10 after a Lunar New Year holiday that already had been extended for several days because of the medical scare. But with many workers unable or unwilling to return to employers located in a sprawling quarantine region, the resumption of routine operations in many workplaces has been delayed.
“The government has reduced our lives to $61,800,” one person wrote on Twitter, using the hashtag #EvacuateUgandansInWuhan. “I can’t believe this. Nothing hurts like being Ugandan.” Read more here.
Uganda already quarantined about 100 people who recently landed in the country from China, drawing criticism from some Ugandan students still in China who see it as a double standard that they do not also have the option to return home and self-quarantine. When China reported a notable decrease in new coronavirus cases Wednesday, the global economy seemed to respond with relief. Markets rallied and observers suggested that the development could signal that the outbreak was slowing down.
Ghanaian students based in Wuhan have also expressed their dismay that Ghana will not transfer them home. But on Thursday, Chinese officials announced a sudden revision in the total case number for Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. They credited the uptick, an additional 15,000 cases, to a new diagnostic methodology that would no longer rely solely on laboratory tests for confirmation.
Michael Adney, a student leader based in Wuhan, told Ghana’s Citi News that students trapped in the city “feel very much disappointed” in the Ghanaian government’s response to the crisis. The dramatic rise shook global markets Thursday amid fears that the spread of the virus could be more severe than had been suspected.
“They should stop treating us as if we are the virus or are infected,” he said. But Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, cautioned that the uptick is probably a reflection of what many public health experts knew all along that China’s initial data vastly underestimated the breadth of the outbreak from the beginning.
Some parents of affected students have even offered to pay for their transport if the government helps arrange the flights. “People who have been following this closely knew that this was much bigger than the reported numbers,” Bogoch said. “We knew we were dealing with a health-care system that was exceeding its capacity, and I don’t think this comes to anyone’s surprise.”
But Badu Sarkodie, public health director of the Ghana Health Service, told the Ghanaian news outlet that for the students to stay in Wuhan is “in their best interest and the best interest of the Ghanaian population.” Bogoch said that very few details have emerged on Hubei province’s new methodology. But he cast doubt on claims that medical professionals in Hubei are now relying on CT scans to make diagnoses. Such scans are a “very labor-intensive pursuit,” he said. “It’s not like you just snap a picture and walk away.”
Last week, Bright Chipao, a Malawian living in Wuhan, told the Guardian that students in his community were growing concerned about how they would get access to basic goods while the city is locked down. China’s health system is overburdened. Patients are seeking treatment wherever they can find a bed which sometimes means in makeshift clinics in converted gymnasiums and conference centers. Realistically, he said, it seems more likely that medical professionals are relying for the most part on clinical diagnoses based on symptoms and patient history.
“There is panic among us as we don’t know how long we are going to survive,” he said. “We are also increasingly running out of foodstuffs.” Until China reveals more about its process, it will be difficult to assess what exactly the latest data means. But for now, Bogoch said, it’s promising that China was at least willing to reevaluate its methodology to respond to the reality on the ground.
Vietnam turned away a cruise liner Friday over fears of coronavirus infection, Vietnamese state media reported, according to Reuters. The ship’s company told The Washington Post that there are no coronavirus cases aboard. “It would certainly be a welcome sign if there is malleability in their response and they’re able to perhaps adapt to an emerging need, and in this case that emerging need was to redefine how cases were being defined,” he said. “We just need to know what exactly the definition is.”
Passengers aboard the German-owned AIDAvita cruise ship had been hoping to disembark at the UNESCO world heritage site Ha Long Bay, in Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province. Authorities there, however, refused the ship permission to dock Friday, saying it was a cautionary measure as the cruise liner had previously docked in the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, where coronavirus cases have been confirmed. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group warned Thursday that it expected the coronavirus outbreak to exert a negative impact on its revenue growth as the country’s consumers, sellers and producers continue to grapple with the economic fallout.
“Not allowing AIDAvita’s passengers to disembark [in Vietnam] is just a temporary solution to prevent the intrusion of diseases,” Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported a local official saying, according to Reuters. “The epidemic has negatively impacted the overall China economy, especially the retail and service sectors,” Maggie Wu, the company’s chief financial officer, said in a conference call Thursday, Bloomberg reported. “While demand for goods and services is there, the means of production in the economy has been hampered by the delayed opening of offices, factories and schools after the Lunar New Year’s holiday.”
There are 16 coronavirus cases in Vietnam, which shares a border with China. “Overall revenue will be negatively impacted,” she said.
In a statement, AIDA Cruises said the ship had no coronavirus cases. The company reported a rise in revenue for the quarter that ended in December, when net income rose by 58 percent, Bloomberg reported.
“There are no suspected or confirmed corona virus infections on board AIDAvita,” the company said. “None of our guests or crewmembers have been in China in the last 14 days.” Nonetheless, Alibaba, which is involved in technology, retail, and e-commerce, has felt the effects of the decline in production and consumption in China. Workers are unable or unwilling to return to jobs and many factories remain shuttered or have been operating with skeleton teams.
It added, “We are currently examining other options for an alternative route with AIDAvita.” The outbreak “will present near term challenges to Alibaba’s businesses across the board,” chief executive Daniel Zhang said in the call, Bloomberg reported.
Vietnam has also refused entry to the MS Westerdam cruise liner, which after two weeks at sea searching for a place to dock, made port in Cambodia on Thursday. Zhang also said that the outbreak could offer Alibaba some new opportunities, such as the company’s plan to provide subsidies and lower service fees for some merchants and businesses hit by the virus.
The World Health Organization praised Cambodia for allowing in the cruise ship, which also has no confirmed coronavirus cases. If the company’s overall revenue falls in the March quarter, it would be the first such decline on record.
Fears about cruise ships being possible vehicles and incubators for the virus are high after 218 people tested positive the disease now called covid-19 while on the Diamond Princess cruise ship under quarantine off Japan. The number of infections has risen during the quarantine period. People in Singapore have a message for medics battling coronavirus this Valentine’s Day: “Thank you, health-care heroes.”
China’s capital is asking residents who were returning to the city to self-quarantine for 14 days after their arrival, the state-run Beijing Daily said Friday. Singaporean activists started a campaign this week urging people to share messages of support and solidarity with medics after reports of discrimination against health-care workers at the front line of containing coronavirus.
The measure is among the most stringent taken by the sprawling city in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has resulted in over 370 cases and at least three deaths in the capital. Singapore has 50 confirmed cases of the disease now known as covid-19.
Beijing Daily reported that those who refused to follow the orders would be punished, without giving further details. “I have read about Singaporeans getting out of lifts or getting off trains if there was a person in medical scrubs because of fear and paranoia that they might get coronavirus,” Wally Thams, one of the organizers of the campaign through the social issues-focused Facebook group, @StandUpForSG, told the BBC. “So for me this was about tackling people’s anxiety.”
BALTIMORE The coronavirus arrived here Feb. 7 in two thumb-size vials, nested in dry ice and multiple layers of protective packaging. He added, “We need courage, we need to be brave, and right now who else is doing that but the healthcare workers.”
The samples, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, remained in deep freeze until Monday afternoon, when virologist Matthew Frieman at the University of Maryland School of Medicine got clearance from an internal biosafety committee to open the tubes in his secure laboratory and begin experiments. People have been sharing their messages on Instagram under the hashtag #braveheartsg.
While the number of cases of the coronavirus continues to grow to more than 60,000 cases, nearly all in China the virus is also beginning to multiply in laboratories around the world. A select group of U.S. researchers has received samples of the virus derived from the first U.S. case, a 35-year-old man in Snohomish County, Wash., who recovered. Others have ordered the virus and are waiting. “Dearest healthcare hero,” reads one note shared on the social media platform. “Most people don’t work in a setting where they are exposed to risks and dangers daily the way you are. Thank you for your unwavering commitment and courage! Really appreciate your care and professionalism and your everyday efforts to keep sg [Singapore] safe.”
As the virus rages in China and infectious-disease experts nervously monitor infections that could seed other outbreaks in at least two dozen other countries, it’s the scientific work in these laboratories that may lead the way to a therapy or vaccine that could help save lives and fight this outbreak or the next one. Studying the virus is the first step toward discovering new ways to stop it: by testing potential drugs, developing animal versions of the disease and probing fundamental questions about how it makes people sick. “Thank you for being brave, courageous, selfless and patient,” reads another message. “Your sacrifices are greatly seen and appreciated.”
Read more here: A day after China reported an additional 15,000 coronavirus cases following a change in testing criteria in Hubei province, the World Health Organization (WHO) assured the public that the rise does not signal a major change in the disease’s course.
As China announced that the coronavirus has spread significantly among its health-care workers, the first health-care worker known to have become part of the outbreak in Singapore told reporters that he was “just unlucky.” The spike in cases “does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak,” said Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, at a daily news briefing in Geneva.
Singapore announced nine new coronavirus cases Friday, including that of a 61-year-old general anesthesiologist. The doctor is case 59 out of 67 total infections and the first health-care professional known to have contracted the coronavirus. China revised its testing guidelines for Hubei, the center of the outbreak, to allow doctors to diagnose patients using clinical methods, rather than only more stringent laboratory results. The new numbers included cases dating from the start of the outbreak nearly two months ago.
In an interview with Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper, the unnamed doctor said Friday that as recently as Feb. 6, he was well and working in the operating theater. After coming down with a fever, he went to a hospital on Sunday and was told he had coronavirus Thursday morning. “In other words, in Hubei province only, a trained medical professional can now classify a suspected case of covid-19 as a clinically confirmed case on the basis of chest imaging, rather than a laboratory confirmation,” Ryan said, referring to the coronavirus by its new name. “In the rest of China and the rest of the world, laboratory confirmation is still required.”
He told the newspaper that he had not traveled to China for more than a year and that he had no known interactions with cases of coronavirus. While calling for caution, Ryan also noted that the WHO still wants to know “how big is the iceberg.”
“I am just unlucky. That’s all I can say,” he told the Straits Times. He added, “We have work to do just to see how big that iceberg is.”
Asked how he could have come into contact with the coronavirus, he said: “I don’t know. No idea at all.” YOKOHAMA Japan announced a new plan Thursday to gradually test passengers on board the stricken Diamond Princess for the coronavirus and allow some to disembark before the end of the quarantine period, as fears rise that the virus may still be circulating on board the cruise ship.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called Friday for improvements in the country’s health-care system, citing the need for better medical insurance for major diseases, according to state media. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said Thursday that 44 more people on board have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing to 218 the total found to have the virus, including 21 crew members.
“Noting that combating coronavirus is a big test for the country’s governance system and governance ability, he stressed the need to strengthen areas of weakness and close loopholes exposed by the current epidemic,” China Global Television Network reported, paraphrasing Xi. On shore, Japan announced its first death from the coronavirus, a woman in her 80s in Kanagawa Prefecture, the same region outside Tokyo where the ship is docked, and three more cases of the virus that included a taxi driver in Tokyo, a man in his 20s in Chiba near Tokyo, and a doctor in the eastern part of the country.
Friday’s statement, and others like it on coronavirus, appeared to be a move by Xi to indicate that China is taking the outbreak seriously, despite criticism that it initially stifled reports of a new virus. That news will put further strain on Japan’s limited ability to test people for the virus, and pose some tough questions on where to concentrate limited resources.
Xi called for other changes in Chinese health laws, signaling that the problem was one of applying policies rather than political reforms, for which his government has suppressed demand. For now, though, there is a new focus on getting people off the Diamond Princess, after a sharp rise in the number of people found to have the virus that has fueled fears it could still somehow be spreading on board, possibly through the crew who prepare and deliver meals.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore announced Friday that it was suspending public masses as a cluster of coronavirus infections linked to the Grace Assembly of God church, a non-Catholic congregation, continues to rise. Amid mounting criticism, Japan’s government changed course Thursday, announcing that it would begin a phased program of testing, where passengers who have no trace of the virus will gradually be allowed to disembark before the quarantine ends on Feb. 19, on a voluntary basis.
The temporary ban goes into effect on Saturday. In a statement, the church acknowledged the move was by no means “fool-proof” in containing the virus, but necessary nonetheless. Kato said the program would begin with the most medically vulnerable people, the more than 200 people in their 80s on board, and those with health problems that put them at particular risk. Priority will also be given to people with indoor, windowless cabins, while gradually extending the age range of evacuees.
“As Catholics, we need to be responsible in playing our part to contain the spread of this virus by avoiding large gatherings of people,” the archdiocese said in the statement posted to its Facebook page. “Hence, given the current escalating situation which is proving to be difficult to contain, all public Masses, both on weekdays and weekends will be suspended indefinitely.” Read more: “Japan relaxes cruise ship quarantine for elderly amid fears of virus spread”
It will instead broadcast Mass for followers to watch virtually. Global markets dropped Thursday after China announced a major increase in cases of coronavirus, after a restructuring in diagnostic criteria used by officials in Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic. The slip follows a promising rally the day before, when the outbreak appeared to have slowed.
“The cancellation of Masses does not mean that Catholics can excuse themselves from fulfilling the obligation of keeping the Day of the Lord holy,” the statement continued. “They should try to follow the broadcast of the Mass on YouTube or CatholicSG Radio. You can also gather as a family for the Liturgy of the Word by spending time in prayer, reading the Word of God of the Sunday Liturgy and interceding for the world that this Covid-19 virus will be contained and eradicated.” Asian and European markets fell overnight, and at Wall Street’s opening bell, the Dow Jones industrial average fell by 115.39 points. The Standard & Poor 500 index fell by 13.55 points and Nasdaq’s index fell by 68.92 points. Oil prices initially slipped but rose again when U.S. markets opened, even as demand has dropped dramatically in China, the largest oil importer in the world.
On Friday, Singapore announced nine new coronavirus cases, six of which it linked to the Grace Assembly of God church, which has now suspended all services and activities for two weeks, Singapore’s the Straits Times reported. Thursday’s slump indicates that uncertainty over how long the outbreak could last has frightened investors. China is facing major economic consequences amid a widespread lockdown and fears of the virus that have shuttered offices and factories. Several major airlines have also canceled flights to China.
MANILA The Philippines said Friday it would end its controversial travel ban on visitors from Taiwan, which was in effect for less than a week. After weeks spent meandering around the Pacific, rebuffed by five governments over coronavirus fears despite the lack of known cases aboard, the MS Westerdam, a cruise ship carrying more than 2,000 crew and passengers, finally found a place to dock: Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
“The lifting of travel restrictions for Taiwan has been agreed,” said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo. Cambodian officials tested 20 passengers for the coronavirus as a precautionary measure. No positive results have been noted.
The announcement walked back a previous statement Thursday that the ban would remain in place. It came after reports that Taiwan would consider revoking visa-free travel for Filipinos as a result. Cambodian Transportation Minister Sun Chanthol said Thursday that Cambodia had isolated and collected blood samples of around 20 passengers who reported being ill, though he stressed there was no indication that they had the disease now known as covid-19.
The Philippines implemented the ban covering mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao last week. Amid conflicting statements from officials, Manila did not clearly communicate the inclusion of Taiwan until Monday night, resulting in more than 80 Taiwanese people being denied entry to the Philippines and more than 500 stranded across the country. “It is incredibly unusual and challenging circumstances,” Orlando Ashford president of Holland America Line, which owns the cruise liner, told passengers in a video message. “This has all been such a unique situation for any of us to be in and you’ve been the most amazing guests throughout all of it.”
Panelo said the government would also reevaluate the inclusion in the ban of other jurisdictions, including Macao, after reviewing security protocols meant to contain the virus. The World Health Organization on Wednesday praised Cambodia for providing “an example of the international solidarity we have consistently been calling for.”
Government agencies cited the “one China” policy as the basis for the inclusion of Taiwan. Critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte see the measure as a move to curry favor with China, which views Taiwan as a rogue province. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page Friday that he would meet with passengers.
Taiwan contested its inclusion under the ban, stressing in a statement that it was a “sovereign and independent state” with its own passports. It also said that the World Health Organization’s classification of it as part of China was a “factual error.” Hun Sen has offered political support for Chinese President Xi Jinping throughout the outbreak. The Cambodian president has offered to visit Cambodians stuck in Wuhan, China, its epicenter.
“No other countries in Asia, except the Philippines, have issued [a] travel ban on Taiwan,” the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office said in an earlier statement. WASHINGTON The CDC confirmed the 15th case of coronavirus in the United States on Thursday morning.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia The second-biggest Ebola outbreak in history, which has upended life in eastern Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces since August 2018, infecting nearly 3,500 people and killing about 2,250, is down to its last chain of transmission. The person is being held under federal quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Tex., after arriving on a State Department chartered flight from China on Feb. 7.
Despite ongoing violence that has hampered the response from its outset, and that has spiked again recently, new cases have dwindled. At the virus’s height in May, hundreds were contracting the disease every week. The CDC said the person is the first of those quarantined in Texas who had symptoms and tested positive for the virus.
The waning of the Ebola outbreak comes as a new one captures global attention and, potentially, funding as well. Global health officials have warned that while the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, now known as covid-19, racks up thousands of new cases a day, the hard work of ending the Ebola outbreak and preventing another is far from over. “There will likely be additional cases in the coming days and weeks, including among other people recently returned from Wuhan,” the CDC said in a statement.
“Funding needs [for the Ebola response] have not as yet been fully met, and currently there is a risk there will not be funding for WHO activities beyond February,” said Margaret Harris, a World Health Organization spokeswoman. Speaking to the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday morning, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar noted that both the 15th U.S. case of coronavirus and the 14th, which was announced Wednesday evening, came from Wuhan.
Ebola and covid-19 are vastly different viruses; Ebola can be transmitted only through exchange of bodily fluids, but it killed nearly 70 percent of those who contracted it in eastern Congo. But Azar also said the United States has begun working with health departments in five cities to use its flu surveillance network to begin testing individuals with flulike symptoms.
The WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Thursday that covid-19 “might have adverse consequences for the [Ebola] response efforts through diminishing focus” on it. “Many questions about the virus remain, and this effort will help see whether there is broader spread than we have been able to detect so far,” Azar said.
While the WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a constellation of nonprofits and the Congolese Health Ministry have mounted a relentless campaign to contain Ebola, little has been done to shore up the region’s health system, which is sorely lacking in even the most basic infrastructure. Ebola is endemic to Congo’s rainforest, and the likelihood of future outbreaks is high. LONDON A woman infected with the coronavirus who arrived in Britain from China took an Uber to a hospital in the Lewisham area of London, after falling ill on Sunday.
Read more here: The hospital’s chief executive, Ben Travis, confirmed Thursday that the woman had “self-presented” in the emergency room over the weekend despite the latest government advice asking those who think they might have been infected to stay home and avoid contact with others.
Singapore confirmed nine new coronavirus cases Friday, linking six of the patients to a church at the center of the country’s biggest cluster of infections. Public Health England also advises those experiencing symptoms to call the National Health Service’s 111 helpline for information. It says those returning from China or other specified areas should not use taxis or other methods of public transport until at least two weeks after their return.
Thirteen people total with ties to the Grace Assembly of God church have tested positive for the virus since Tuesday. In total, 67 people in Singapore have contracted the illness, known as covid-19, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Health. “In this case, the patient self-presented,” Travis said in a statement. “As soon as the patient did this, the patient was given a mask and then escorted to be tested in the dedicated area we have assigned for coronavirus testing outside the A&E building while awaiting the installation of a purpose-built ‘pod.’ ”
The Health Ministry’s director of medical services, Kenneth Mak, told Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper that investigations were still unfolding around the spread of infections connected to the church. All staff who came into contact with the patient “were undergoing active surveillance as a precautionary measure,” he added.
“We have not identified a single individual to be a super spreader,” he said. According to the hospital, the woman did not come into contact with any other patients and was later moved to a specialist unit at another hospital in central London.
In Britain, one man who traveled from Singapore to France to Switzerland and then back home to England was later identified as a “superspreader,” a term used to describe someone with an outsize role in transmitting an infection. British authorities believe he contracted the coronavirus while in Singapore for a sales conference held at a hotel. The patient is the first coronavirus patient confirmed in the British capital, bringing the total number to nine.
HONG KONG The Hong Kong government is hoping to soften the blow of the coronavirus outbreak on its hard-hit sectors, setting aside a multibillion-dollar relief package for tourism-related businesses, restaurants and other vulnerable and affected groups. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday rejected calls to reverse a temporary entry ban on Taiwanese travelers. He cited the risk of coronavirus infections to justify the decision and denied any political motives.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced Friday that she will ask the legislative council to approve doubling a fund set aside for the outbreak to $3.2 billion, hoping to use this money to subsidize restaurants, tour operators and other affected industries. The plan calls for direct subsidies to incentivize firms to make surgical masks, as well as financial assistance to the elderly, hawkers and retailers. “My primary concern is the health and safety of our countrymen,” Duterte said, according to his spokesman Salvador Panelo.
Subsidies will also be extended to residents who had been allocated units in two public housing estates earmarked as quarantine sites, Lam added. Each household will receive a single payment of $770. But Taiwanese officials argue that the Philippines is unfairly treating their island which has only confirmed 18 cases of the virus, compared to almost 60,000 in mainland China as part of Beijing’s territory.
“We urge all lawmakers to support the funding,” she said. Critics of Duterte have similarly argued that the inclusion of Taiwan in the travel ban is a politically motivated move to curry favor with China, one of the Philippines’ biggest trading partners.
Meanwhile, three new coronavirus cases have been confirmed, bringing the total in Hong Kong to 56. Taiwan considers itself to be a self-governing country, whereas Beijing views the island as part of “one China,” under the Communist Party’s authority.
The city’s economic minister said Friday that the government has also requested consent from the Hong Kong Disneyland Park to create more quarantine camps on land originally zoned for the park’s expansion, if cases spike. Initially, the Philippines’ travel ban was only reported to include mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao. But officials later clarified that the measure also included Taiwan, which triggered threats of retaliation from officials there.
YOKOHAMA, Japan — The International Olympic Committee said Friday it has been advised by the World Health Organization that there was “no case” to cancel or relocate the Tokyo 2020 Olympics over the coronavirus outbreak. YOKOHAMA, Japan — Japan’s Health Ministry announced the death of a woman in her 80s from coronavirus on Thursday, the country’s first death from the disease and only the second fatality attributed to the virus outside China.
A day after Japan reported its first death from the new coronavirus, John Coates, the head of the IOC’s Coordination Commission, said he continued to expect the Games to go ahead as planned. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the woman lived in Kanagawa prefecture, just outside Tokyo.
Advice from the WHO was that “there is no case for any contingency plans of canceling the Games or moving the Games,” Coates said, according to Reuters. Deaths from the disease have surged past 1,300 in China, but the Philippines was the only other country until now to record a fatality.
The coronavirus epidemic has already caused several international sporting events to be canceled or postponed, including the Shanghai Grand Prix, while Olympic qualifying events in soccer, badminton and basketball had to be moved out of China. Separately, the ministry reported two more cases of coronavirus among Japanese citizens, with no indication that either had been in China recently. One was a male doctor in his 50s in Wakayama Prefecture in western Japan; the other was a taxi driver in his 70s in Tokyo who said he had driven Chinese passengers.
Coates said coordination between the Japan organizing committee’s virus task force and other national authorities reinforced the IOC’s confidence that the situation was being properly addressed, Reuters reported. Japan has confirmed 31 cases of the virus, but the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored in Yokohama harbor has recorded an additional 218 cases.
That raised expectations that “we’ll be able to ensure that the Games go ahead in a way that’s safe for the athletes and spectators,” Coates told a news conference in Tokyo. Atsuo Hamada, a professor at Tokyo Medical University Hospital, called the latest cases in different parts of the country worrying. He said an apparent slowdown in new cases recently may have been caused by a shortage of test kits.
Toshiro Muto, the chief executive of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said last week he was “seriously worried” that the virus might affect momentum toward the Games, but he pledged the following day the event would go ahead as planned “Probably we are seeing more cases being confirmed now as the result of an expanded testing capacity,” he said on NHK. “Going forward, there is a possibility that we may see cases in different parts of Japan.”
Thailand’s tourism officials are pushing for visa-free entry for Chinese citizens, the Bangkok Post reported, hoping to kick-start a tourism sector that is suffering heavy losses over the coronavirus outbreak. Singapore’s Health Ministry confirmed eight new coronavirus cases, bringing the city-state’s total up to 58.
Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, quoted in the report, said the number of Chinese tourists arriving in Thailand fell about 87 percent in the first nine days of February compared with a year earlier and is likely to drop about 90 percent overall this month. International tourist arrivals overall have dropped by about 43 percent, he added. Authorities also confirmed links between the new cases and already known clusters of infections, including one at a construction site and another one at a church.
Thailand’s government is now eyeing a revival in April, hoping that infections will level off by then and that Chinese authorities will lift a travel ban by late March. Tourism officials hope to submit the visa-free proposal for Chinese tourists in April, on the condition that the outbreak is managed and under control. The announcement came after the co-chairman of Singapore’s task force fighting the outbreak, Lawrence Wong, indicated that the government expects the tally to rise.
Southeast Asia is reeling from the loss of billions of dollars in tourism receipts from mainland Chinese arrivals, who cannot come because of the lockdowns in place across a swath of China and travel restrictions imposed by individual countries. In Thailand, the government expects a loss of $8 billion, roughly 1.5 percent of gross domestic product. “[We] don’t know how successful we will be in all of these containment measures that we have put in place,” the official was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
BEIJING This season looks grim for the thousands of vendors at China’s largest flower trading center, Kunming Dounan market, which sells billions of freshly cut flowers a year and accounts for almost three-quarters of flower transactions in China. Before the new cases announced Thursday, eight Singaporean coronavirus patients were in critical condition.
“Roses were thrown away in huge piles,” a wholesaler, who identified himself only as Hu, told the 21st Century Business Herald on Friday. SEOUL South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for the resumption of economic activities as the coronavirus outbreak “nears an end,” even as reported cases surged in China on Thursday after changes to the reporting protocols in Hubei province.
A retailer, identified only as Zhang, said traffic-control measures due to the coronavirus outbreak have cut off supplies from some flower-growing villages in Yunnan and hindered the transportation of fresh flowers to other parts of China. Moon was probably referring to the situation in South Korea, where a quarter of the 28 coronavirus patients have already been discharged from quarantine. There has not been any new confirmed coronavirus case since Wednesday.
“I only hope I can go back to work as soon as possible,” Zhang said, adding that Valentine’s Day normally accounts for 20 to 30 percent of annual sales. Moon told a meeting with South Korean business leaders Thursday that now is the time to “minimize the impact of the coronavirus” and “revive the economic flow.”
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the coronavirus outbreak has seriously affected the city-state’s economy, which could slide into recession over the coming quarters. South Korea’s economy is heavily dependent on China, which accounts for the biggest share of South Korea’s exports and imports.
Quoting the prime minister on a visit to Singapore’s airport, the Straits Times reported that the coronavirus has already hit the economy harder than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, which lasted about five months. Auto giant Hyundai initially had to suspend production at its home base in South Korea after the coronavirus outbreak in China disrupted its car manufacturing supply lines there.
“It’s already much more than SARS, and the economies of the region are much more interlinked together. China, particularly, is a much bigger factor in the region,” Lee said. This week, Hyundai Motor Co. Vice Chairman Yoon Yeo-Chul told Moon that most of the automaker’s factories in China and some in South Korea have since resumed operations, according to a readout from the presidential office.
Singapore has 58 confirmed cases, among the highest tallies globally. Taiwan, South Korea and others have added Singapore to their lists of travel advisories, urging citizens to refrain from visiting. Singapore. meanwhile, has also barred all arrivals from mainland China to minimize the risk of further outbreaks. The government is bracing for a serious impact on tourism, estimating that arrivals will drop by 25 to 30 percent. Moon also vowed support for other South Korean companies with production bases in China, as well as the tourism industry, which has taken “a direct hit” from the virus.
“I can’t say whether we will have a recession or not,” Lee said, according to the Straits Times. “It’s possible, but definitely our economy will take a hit.” Last year, South Korea had more than 6 million tourists from China, accounting for one-third of all foreigners traveling to the country.
TOKYO Japan reported another four cases of the new coronavirus Friday, adding to four cases announced the previous day and bringing the national total to 36, as fears rise that the country could be facing its own outbreak of the disease. A representative for the World Health Organization (WHO) called for “further clarity” from China on Thursday, after the country significantly raised its tallies of coronavirus infections and deaths.
One of the most worrying cases announced Thursday was a doctor in the eastern prefecture of Wakayama. On Feb. 7, a former patient at the hospital, a male farmer in his 70s, was found to have the virus. One other doctor and one other patient were also showing some pneumonia-like symptoms and awaiting test results. In Hubei province, the number of new cases of the virus, now called covid-19, jumped nearly tenfold from the rates reported in recent days. Chinese officials said the surge was due to changes in how cases are now being diagnosed and counted.
A case was also confirmed in the southwestern island of Okinawa, the last port of call of the cruise ship Diamond Princess before it was placed in quarantine in Yokohama last week. A female taxi driver in her 60s found to have the virus was among 200 people who had been under monitoring in Okinawa because they had been in contact with passengers from then ship during their 9.5-hour stay. The new figures also reflect diagnoses made by doctors’ overall assessments rather than the results of nucleic acid testing.
The other two cases were found in Tokyo, both in people believed to have been in contact with a taxi driver diagnosed with the virus on Thursday, Japanese media reported. The driver said he had carried Chinese passengers. Some researchers welcomed the announcement.
Japan’s government vowed to step up testing for the virus on Friday, but Health Minister Katsunobu Kato tried to play down concerns. “One of the problems with using lab-confirmed cases to monitor the spread of [an] epidemic is if there’s a ceiling in the number of tests that can be processed,” said Benjamin Cowling of the School of Public Health at Hong Kong University. “We’ve always known there were more coronavirus infections than the confirmed number of cases. It’s a very sensible move.”
“We do not have sufficient evidence to change our current position that the outbreak is not widespread,” he said, according to broadcaster NHK. “Yet we cannot deny it has spread. We are preparing for that situation so we would be ready if we get into that situation.” Speaking to the Reuters news agency, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said the organization would seek more information from the Chinese side on reporting protocols and the definition of cases.
Masahiro Kami, executive director at the Medical Governance Research Institute in Tokyo, said the fight against the virus is entering a new phase in Japan. “It is our current understanding that the new case definition widens the net, and includes not only lab-confirmed cases but also clinically diagnosed cases based on symptoms and exposure,” Jasarevic told Reuters.
“The public has now come to be aware that an outbreak is spreading within Japan,” he said. BEIJING Chinese researchers are increasingly finding covid-19 in human stool, but they say it is too early to declare a high risk of the pathogen transmitting through fecal matter or bathroom plumbing like its related cousin, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus.
Kami said the virus had already been spreading undetected for some time evidenced by the fact that a Thai couple were found to have the virus after returning from a visit to Japan. He added that the case of the doctor in Wakayama was a potentially serious problem. A team headed by the prominent Chinese researcher Zhong Nanshan said Thursday it isolated the coronavirus from a stool sample of an infected patient. Similar findings have been announced in recent days by scientists at China’s National Health Commission and in Hong Kong.
“Doctors and other medical staff, if they get infected, have a possibility that they may transmit the infection to patients where they are hospitalized,” he said. “And these are the people who are most vulnerable to the risk of death. This is an issue to which we have to give the highest attention now.” The prospect of the virus replicating in the digestive tract and spreading through fecal matter is particularly worrisome for Asia’s vertical cities. Panic erupted in Hong Kong 17 years ago after cases emerged of SARS moving through plumbing inside apartment towers.
Authorities have found a factory in Hanoi using toilet paper to produce face masks, the Vietnam Express reported, cutting corners as coronavirus fears fuel rising demand for supplies of protective items. Hong Kong officials this week evacuated an apartment block after residents living directly on top of each other on different floors became infected, leading local officials to worry that the virus may have wafted out of vertical sewage pipes or been carried onto different floors in liquid droplets.
Officials this week were suspicious when they found dozens of large toilet paper rolls at the factory, the outlet reported, and discovered that they were being used to replace the inner antibacterial layer that stops microbes from entering or exiting the surgical mask. Zhao Jincun, deputy director of China’s National Key Laboratory for Respiratory Illnesses, told reporters Thursday that isolating the virus in stool “indicates there may be new transmission methods for the coronavirus, but we need further study.”
“This company is cheating consumers amid the novel coronavirus outbreak,” said Hoang Dai Nghia from the Hanoi Market Surveillance Department. The company’s stock has been confiscated, and authorities are now considering appropriate penalties. Chinese National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said Thursday there was no evidence of significant “fecal-oral” transmission, adding that most infection arose from touching contaminated surfaces.
According to the Vietnam Express, the company, Viet Han Company, is not listed as a medical equipment producer, but as a printer and napkin maker. BEIJING China’s National Health Commission said the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases as of the end of Wednesday jumped to 59,804 and the death toll rose by 254, to 1,367.
The World Health Organization has warned of a global shortage of surgical masks as customers, particularly in Asia, rush to protect themselves against the spread of the virus. Many factories are now trying to pivot and produce these items, but counterfeits have also flooded the market, with false trademarks and false details on where the masks originated from. Commission spokesman Mi Feng announced the nationwide figures Thursday afternoon amid intense speculation over whether China would significantly adjust its infection and death tally. Earlier Thursday, Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, revised its case numbers far higher to reflect coronavirus diagnoses made by doctors’ holistic assessments rather than the results of nucleic acid testing kits.
BEIJING China’s National Health Commission said Friday that at least 1,716 medical staff have contracted coronavirus, and six have died. Chinese experts have argued that the testing kits, which sample mucus swabbed from the upper respiratory tract, are both inaccurate and lacking in supply, and therefore do not reflect the true number of infections and deaths from the coronavirus.
Zeng Yixin, the vice director of the National Health Commission, was citing the latest figures available as of Tuesday. Of these cases, 1,502 were reported in Hubei province. The health commission said that the illness will be identified as an occupation injury for medical workers, who will be covered by insurance. Mi told reporters Thursday that Hubei province changed its diagnosis criteria from every other region so that its patients could receive the appropriate care sooner and more efficiently.
The most sensitive of these cases is the death of Li Wenliang, the whistleblower doctor who is considered the first to sound the alarm about the new virus when he leaked a document on Dec. 30 from his hospital, confirming the diagnosis. When he succumbed from the disease, grief and rage filled social media, as the country saw his death as a parable for the Communist Party’s failings. So far, jurisdictions beyond Hubei have not switched to the looser diagnosis guidelines. The steep rise in nationwide figures announced by Mi were almost completely attributed to the sharp rise in cases reported by the virus-stricken province.
Read more: Chinese doctor who tried to raise alarm on coronavirus in Wuhan dies on ‘front line’ of medical fight. BEIJING Confusion set in Thursday after Hubei, the Chinese province at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, abruptly changed its diagnosis criteria and reported a drastically higher infection and death count.
BEIJING Chinese authorities in Nanjing have asked residents in the city of 8 million and returning workers to register their personal information on an app, as officials turn away travelers and other short-term visitors. Meanwhile, other regions quickly said they would not follow Hubei’s lead and revise their figures. Officials from Shanghai and Fujian a bustling province in China’s southeast told reporters they would stick to the old diagnosis requirement of only reporting coronavirus cases that have been confirmed using nucleic acid tests.
In a notice issued late Thursday, the Nanjing city government asked returning residents and migrant workers based there to register on an app called “Ning Guilai” a pun that can either mean Nanjing Returns or Peace Returns. The app requires a facial scan to confirm that all identification information is accurate. Chinese health experts have acknowledged shortcomings in nucleic acid tests, including the prevalence of inaccurate results. Some top officials concur that Hubei’s new guidelines of allowing doctors to make judgment calls about coronavirus diagnoses may be more accurate.
“Your travel could be affected if we find the information you filled in to be inaccurate; more importantly, it will leave a dark spot in your personal credit record,” the Nanjing government’s notice read, also warning of potential “legal liabilities.” Asked about the change in reporting methodology in Hubei, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Thursday to ask relevant departments, rather than his ministry.
The app also specified that only those with a permanent residence and workplace in Nanjing, and who are not from the epicenter of the outbreak, Hubei province, are free to travel into the city. Short-term visitors and travelers without a permanent residence or long-term job in Nanjing must postpone trips there, the city government said. The abrupt revision in Hubei came just hours before the Chinese Communist Party announced a shake-up that would replace two top Hubei officials, leading political observers to wonder if the newly announced statistics carried political undertones, as statistics often do in China.
Shanghai has similarly relied on apps to track arrivals, announcing on Feb. 1 that visitors coming in from airports, train stations and toll gates would have to register their personal information on a smartphone app called Healthcare Cloud. The app was originally designed for making hospital appointments and other health services, but now includes a separate section that requires users to register their detailed personal information, including their ID, home and Shanghai addresses, phone number, emergency contact and travel itinerary. On WeChat, one widely circulating post suggested that Hubei’s new party bosses released the higher figures because they wanted a fresh start. Other analysts wondered why there was a discrepancy between the various provinces in reporting methodology.
Yunnan province this week also launched a WeChat in-app program, Kang Yiqing or “Fighting the Epidemic,” that requires residents to register their personal information by scanning a QR code when entering a public venue including residential areas, farmers markets, shopping malls, supermarkets and subway stations. Carl Minzner, professor of Chinese law and politics at Fordham Law School, said Thursday’s developments suggested a “certain lack of coordination” within the party.
“For those who refuse to cooperate, public venue management has the right to ban them from entering or exiting. Those who try to force into public venues without registration, disturb public order, or cause serious consequences, will be held accountable according to law,” Yunnan authorities said. “In a one party political system that is now obsessively focused on controlling the narrative regarding the epidemic, you’d expect a data release of this magnitude to be accompanied by a much clearer propaganda narrative for public consumption,” Minzner told The Washington Post.
YOKOHAMA, Japan Japan’s health ministry said on Friday that 10 people evacuated from the quarantined cruise ship the Diamond Princess are in serious condition, with eight confirmed to have the new coronavirus. Minzner speculated that central leaders may be hesitant about letting every jurisdiction revise its numbers upward under the looser guidelines.
One of the other two is still awaiting results of a test. “Perhaps party authorities themselves remain somewhat uncertain to what extent they want to authorize more sweeping case counting methods outside Hubei, which might produce both larger and possibly inaccurate totals as well as fuel resistance to their ongoing efforts to restart China’s economy,” he said.
Amid persistent criticism of its approach, the government said it would start allowing some people who have tested negative for the virus to disembark from the ship early, and finish their quarantine at a facility on land. Priority will be given to passengers over the age of 80 and those with existing medical problems, as well as people in windowless cabins, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said. Australia on Thursday extended entry restrictions on travelers who have been in mainland China recently, as it tries to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
So far, 218 people on board the ship have tested positive for the virus, out of 713 people who have been assessed. The government says it plans to step up testing in a bid to examine everyone on board before the quarantine ends on Feb. 19. The current ban had been due to expire on Saturday, but officials have now pushed it back by another week.
A quarantine officer involved in screening passengers for the virus also fell sick, with the health ministry saying he did not follow proper procedures, wiping away sweat with his gloves and reusing a mask he had worn earlier, NHK reported. “We are very mindful of the disruption and economic impacts of these arrangements, but I note Australia is one of 58 countries that has introduced some form of travel restrictions,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Read more about the conditions on board the Diamond Princess: Japan relaxes cruise ship quarantine for elderly amid fears of virus spread. Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family are exempt from the ban, which does not apply to the semiautonomous Chinese territories of Hong Kong or Macao.
BEIJING Forget red roses. Broccoli, cauliflower, masks and hand sanitizer are now the way to prove you love your partner this Valentine’s Day in China, according to Meituan, the country’s largest on-demand services provider. Officials have advised Australians not to travel to mainland China, and have asked those returning to isolate themselves for 14 days.
Flower delivery platforms are reporting a massive drop in online flower sales, as health fears dissuade people from ordering anything online or picking up deliveries. Zhong’ai Flower, an online flower delivery platform based in Wuhan, the epicenter of coronavirus outbreak, reported a sales drop of 90 percent. Ma Yingzi, a flower supplier in Beijing, also estimated a 95 percent drop in flower sales this Valentine’s Day. Australia has recorded 15 cases of the new coronavirus, but no deaths. The country has close economic ties with China, and economists and the central bank have warned of lower growth as a result of the travel curbs.
The new favorites: broccoli and cauliflower. Meituan said roses are no longer its most ordered items on this day of love, while the vegetables instead have become hot items. Broccoli in Chinese contains the word “flower” in its name, making it a popular gift in lieu of actual flowers, with more nutrients to boot. The country is also a major destination for Chinese students. Some 100,000 Chinese students have been unable to begin university classes in Australia this term, the start of the country’s academic year, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Others are opting for more practical gifts instead of chocolate. Meituan’s sales data show that gift orders still grew by 30 percent on Friday, but the most-searched present options were masks, goggles and disinfectants. Vietnamese officials have locked down a village in Vinh Phuc province, just an hour north of Hanoi, after discovering a spike in coronavirus cases there the first effort at a mass quarantine outside of China.
Singapore’s education ministry has launched a new song “Bye Bye Virus” featuring a cast of virus-fighting superheroes in the hopes of teaching schoolchildren best-practice hygiene measures to fend off the outbreak. Vietnam has also just announced its 16th confirmed case of coronavirus, and the patient is also from the same province.
It even comes with a dance. The village, Son Loi commune, will be shut off for at least two weeks, starting on Thursday, according to the Vietnam Express newspaper. Eight cases have been confirmed in Son Loi commune, and 11 of the 16 confirmed cases in Vietnam were recorded in Vinh Phuc province, including that of a 3-month-old baby.
Singapore Ministry of Education The Vietnam Express, which is state-linked, said officials were working to provide sufficient food and medical supplies for the village while it remains under lockdown and will provide food and face masks to residents. Over 10,000 people live in the village. Those under quarantine will get a daily food allowance of about $2.30, and those at home will get a slightly lower amount. Checkpoints have also been set up around the village.
The lyrics replicate advice that has been doled out by the government in recent weeks, but in rhymes: “Wear a mask if you’re falling sick / go see a doctor, don’t be so thick.” The chorus is simply “coronavirus go away, don’t you stay.” A villager interviewed by AFP said authorities had already been advising residents to avoid large gatherings, and said life there has been “badly affected” as laborers are unable to work.
The cast of superhero characters, like Mask Up Mei Mei and Wipe Down Wilson, all provide specific tips on mask-wearing and hand-washing, and they remind students to avoid touching their faces. The coronavirus illness spread in the province when a group of eight workers from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, returned home to Vinh Phuc province on Jan. 17.
Experts have praised Singapore’s transparency and proactive measures in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. The city-state has 58 confirmed cases, one of the highest of any country, but health experts say it has been more proactive about weeding out confirmed cases and tracking down clusters of infection. BEIJING China’s state outlets urged citizens not to panic Thursday after officials in Hubei province announced the number of new coronavirus cases jumped nearly tenfold from the rates reported in recent days due to a change in how cases are diagnosed and counted.
Unlike Hong Kong, which has a similar number of infections and a similar population, Singapore has not closed schools, and lessons have continued largely as usual. Only interschool activities have been canceled. Singapore has been focusing its public education efforts on schools and the young, who are vulnerable to the spread of diseases. The surprise revelation raised familiar fears among Chinese that their government had been underreporting or intentionally playing down the true scale of the epidemic, as it did during the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Those fears were compounded Thursday when the National Health Commission did not disclose nationwide figures as it had on previous days after Hubei reported its jump in cases.
BEIJING Hubei’s most densely populated county became the latest to implement “wartime measures” to control the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, effectively barring residents from leaving their homes. Anxious Internet users started leaving comments under the commission’s microblog pleading for their daily update.
The Yunmeng Public Security Bureau said on its official WeChat account that these measures would take effect Friday. All residential complexes have been sealed off and only essential vehicles will be allowed on the roads. “What about today’s numbers? Brother? Have you forgotten? The whole country is waiting for the numbers!” the user “L520Hkongkong” wrote.
“Anyone who forces their way out of compounds, buildings or road connections will be detained,” Yunmeng authorities said. “It is because today’s number is so over the top that they’re just not going to update at all?” wrote “actressmunana.”
Neighborhood communities are required to assign staff to help residents buy daily necessities. The county has over 300 confirmed coronavirus infections, and has a population of about half a million people. The jump in Hubei’s confirmed numbers came after the province began to count coronavirus cases that were diagnosed by doctors using methods including chest scans. Previously, health authorities only recorded coronavirus cases that were confirmed by nucleic acid tests performed on throat swabs. The nucleic acid tests yielded many false negatives and had an accuracy rate of just 50 percent, a central government leading group expert told the state broadcaster Wednesday.
The orders will be in place for about two weeks, according to Chinese state media. State outlets including the Xinhua News Agency and the state broadcaster CCTV put a positive spin on the increase in Hubei’s numbers and urged people not to panic.
Experts have questioned the effectiveness of these lockdowns and the legality of applying “wartime” controls in this public health emergency. “This is practical and responsible,” a Xinhua report said. “It cannot only speed up the admission of patients into hospitals, but also increase the prevention and control of the epidemic.”
HONG KONG — Beijing has replaced the top official overseeing the semiautonomous territories of Hong Kong and Macao, as it shakes up political ranks in response to the coronavirus crisis and other developments.
China on Thursday appointed Xia Baolong, the vice-chairman of its top political advisory body, to be the new director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, state media reported, replacing the previous director Zhang Xiaoming.
Zhang, who had been in his role since late 2017, oversaw Hong Kong affairs during the course of last year’s political unrest and street protests against China’s growing encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The reshuffle means that both of Beijing’s most senior officials overseeing Hong Kong’s political upheaval last year have been replaced. In January, China replaced Wang Zhimin, the head of the Hong Kong liaison office, with a party leader who had no clear links to Hong Kong. Analysts say the Chinese Communist Party is using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to shake up political ranks.
Widespread disaffection in Hong Kong continues over the government’s handling of both the political unrest and the coronavirus outbreak. In a February opinion poll, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had an approval rating of just over 20 percent, among the lowest since she took office in 2017.
HONG KONG — The coronavirus outbreak is delivering a huge hit to the global tourism industry, with airlines, hotels and restaurants all reporting a dent to business after countries imposed travel restrictions to try to curb the epidemic.
Vietnam Airlines became the latest carrier to quantify the financial impact, saying Thursday that it was losing almost $11 million a week in revenue, according to Reuters.
“The epidemic has significantly reduced the travel demand of domestic and international tourists in the Vietnam network,” the company told the news agency in a statement, adding that it was cutting costs to try to ride out the turbulence. The airline has suspended all flights to and from mainland China, Vietnam’s largest source of tourists.
Cathay Pacific said earlier this month that passenger numbers had collapsed by half, as the Hong Kong-based airline cut China routes and ordered staff to take unpaid leave. U.S. carriers and others have also slashed flights to China, including Hong Kong.
BEIJING — China removed senior officials in the virus-stricken province of Hubei, as the Communist Party leadership looks to tighten control over its epidemic response and assuage public furor over authorities’ handling of the crisis.
The ruling party's Central Committee announced Thursday that Jiang Chaoliang, a former banker and Party secretary of Hubei province since 2016, had been fired. He will be replaced by the Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, a 62-year-old ally of President Xi Jinping who served as a judge on the Zhejiang province high court before being appointed to top positions in Shanghai.
Ma Guoqiang, the party boss overseeing Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak, has also been replaced by Wang Zhonglin, an official from eastern Shandong province with a background in the security and legal apparatus, according to state media.
News of the reshuffle came hours after China announced a massive spike in infection numbers in Hubei province. Chinese citizens have widely demanded official accountability in the wake of a slow and fumbled government response in the early days of the epidemic that may have contributed to its spread.
Two newly appointed top officials of #coronavirus epicenter Hubei and #Wuhan, with years of legal background, are considered 'firefighters' who are decisive in dealing with public crises.
Jiang, the Hubei party boss who has been widely mocked on social media, was seen attending a Lunar New Year variety show on Jan. 21, even as the epidemic accelerated. Hubei's capital city, Wuhan, was locked down hours later and several of the show's performers became ill.
Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang said in an interview last month that he was not authorized by superiors to make public announcements about the epidemic.
Aside from the Hubei and Wuhan leaders, the ruling party has also dismissed health officials in the cities of Wuhan and Huanggang.
BEIJING — Chinese leader Xi Jinping dispatched additional medical officers from the People's Liberation Army to support and aid Wuhan, the epicenter of novel coronavirus outbreak in central China.
Multiple military transport aircraft landed at Wuhan’s Tianhe Airport on Thursday morning, where they unloaded teams of medical professionals and supplies, the state broadcaster reported.
The Chinese military, which is often mobilized during disasters, has so far deployed more than 4,000 medical staff to hospitals in Wuhan, where local infrastructure and medical staff are badly stretched.
Earlier this month, 1,400 medical professionals from the PLA army were assigned to take control over Wuhan's pop-up hospital Huoshenshan, a facility for severe coronavirus patients.
In 2003, the PLA sent 1,200 medical staff to Xiaotangshan, a temporary hospital in Beijing treating patients of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Top Chinese leaders have effectively put the country on war footing and rallied citizens, all arms of government and state enterprises to fight a “people's war” against the outbreak, which has killed more than 1,300.
YOKOHAMA, Japan — Japan’s Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said Thursday that 44 more people have tested positive for the new coronavirus on board the quarantined cruise liner the Diamond Princess, bringing to 218 the total number of passengers and crew confirmed as infected.
Kato said the group included 29 Japanese and 15 non-Japanese. They include 43 passengers and one crew member, bringing to 21 the number of crew members who have now fallen sick.
Kato also announced a new policy to allow some passengers who test negative for the virus to disembark before the quarantine period ends on Feb. 19.
“Those considered at high risk, including those in their 80s, or those who have underlying health problems, or those in windowless rooms, will take tests successively, and if they test negative, and if they wish, they will disembark, and they will be staying at facilities provided by the government,” he said. Consideration will also be given to roommates of those to whom the new policy applies.
There are more than 200 people over the age of 80 on board the ship, Kato said, adding that the government is considering rolling out the new policy to people of lower ages in successive steps.
The latest positive results came from tests administered on 221 people. In total 218 people have tested positive out of 713 tests administered to the ship’s passengers and crew, or more than three in ten people.
There were 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew members on board the ship when it was placed in quarantine last week, but those infected with the virus or suffering other health emergencies have steadily been evacuated to hospitals in Japan.
BEIJING — China’s official figures for coronavirus cases skyrocketed on Thursday after officials changed the methodology for diagnosing and counting cases, a dramatic shift that revived questions about whether China’s official data — and its testing methods — have accurately reflected the epidemic’s true scale.
Previously, hospitals in Hubei only recorded cases of patients who took nucleic acid tests and returned positive. But the testing kits have been in short supply and require at least two days to process, residents say.
Labs in Wuhan have posed a bottleneck because they can process at most 8,000 to 10,000 test samples a day, according to state media.
Doctors across China have also reported inaccuracies in the tests, with many returning “false negatives.”
The government revised the total case numbers in Hubei province by almost an additional 15,000 — and the death tally higher by 242 — after it took into account cases in which doctors are allowed to diagnose patients based on clinical methods such as CT scans. The new method, according to state media, would let doctors quickly hospitalize and isolate patients.
Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control, told state media Thursday that instances of “false negative” were surfacing in nucleic acid tests, which prompted the change in the classification methodology. If patients who show symptoms but do not test positive “are included in the new cases, they can be isolated,” Zeng said. “This is good for society and the patients.”
HONG KONG — Schools in Hong Kong will remain closed until March 16, the territory’s Education Secretary said Thursday, a further precaution to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Schools had been due to reopen in late January after the Lunar New Year holiday, but officials opted to keep them closed for several more weeks as Hong Kong raised its emergency response to the highest level over the mounting outbreak.
Students had been due to return on March 2, but Thursday’s extension moves that timeline further. Work-from-home arrangements have also been extended until Feb. 23 for government departments, other than those providing emergency and essential public services.
Universities and schools have moved to online classes, but the impact of the closures has been destabilizing for many families. Some expatriate families are choosing to temporarily relocate or return home, while many businesses — already suffering from political unrest over recent months — are shelving plans to expand or downsizing their operations in the financial hub.
Christina Kerby was corralled aboard a luxury cruise ship, charting a meandering course in the South China Sea, when she began thinking about the apocalypse.
Luckily, the WiFi on Holland America’s MS Westerdam was plentiful. She tapped out a tweet.
“Here’s a science fiction plot line for ya,” she wrote. “Amidst a global epidemic that wipes out the earth’s population, it’s up to the people aboard one cruise ship — the only safe place on earth — to repopulate the planet. **Passengers onboard the #Westerdam begin eyeing each other nervously**”
It was an idea that befit her new dystopian reality — but instead of a sci-fi thriller, she was going for lighthearted comedy. The way she saw it, there wasn’t much else she could do, as her long-planned vacation was ensnared in a global frenzy over a fast-spreading disease and the story of her cruise ship had spiraled into international news.
Read about how passengers on the Westerdam are passing the time and keeping the outside world informed of what’s happening on the vessel: Dystopian revelry aboard the cruise to nowhere: Live-tweeting in a time of coronavirus.
Three patients who were transferred from federal quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California are being cared for at UC San Diego Health.
Two have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, while the third patient is under investigation and has developed symptoms that warrant further tests, UC San Diego Health said in a statement late Wednesday. All three were “doing well,” it added.
“We are taking all necessary measures and precautions to minimize any potential exposures as we care for both potential and confirmed covid-19 cases,” the statement said. “Patients are treated in negative-pressure isolation rooms; health care providers in contact with these patients are trained to use appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gowns, gloves, fit-tested high-filtration respirators and face shields or goggles.”