Live updates: Coronavirus cases surge again in China; more than 1,700 medical workers infected
(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.
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.
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.
Here are the latest developments:
● 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.
● 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.
● 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’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.
● Egypt announced its first case of coronavirus Friday, marking the first confirmed instance of the virus in Africa.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dirty looks, deserted restaurants, bullied children — this is the reality for many Asian Americans after the outbreak of the coronavirus six weeks ago.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Read more: “The coronavirus and the long history of blaming ‘the other’ in public health crises”
Face masks and hazmat suits don’t exactly set the scene for romance.
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.
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.
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. ”
“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.
“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!”
Then he and his colleague began to clap.
Health workers have faced dangerous conditions throughout the outbreak, with a major uptick in cases among emergency workers reported Friday.
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.
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.
Facebook announced Friday that it would cancel a summit it had planned to hold at San Francisco’s Moscone Center in March.
“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 annual event brings together Facebook employees from around the world. It was due to take place this year from March 9 to 12.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The statement did not say where the person was detected or whether they were a resident of Egypt.
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.
“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!”
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).
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.
“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.
Read more: “Macao gambled on a costly casino shutdown. It may emerge a winner from coronavirus.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
But Huang cautioned against seeing the figure as the final word on medical workers, given discrepancies in case reporting so far.
“If it is coming from an official source, we have to take it always with a grain of salt,” he said.
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.
“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.
While countries “would rather be safe than sorry,” evidence “belies the claim that illegal travel restrictions make countries safer,” they add.
“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.”
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.
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.
Prominent scholars such as Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, were among the authors.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
Scientists are scrambling to develop a vaccine and anti-viral treatment for covid-19, which can be a costly and time-consuming process.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
Ghanaian students based in Wuhan have also expressed their dismay that Ghana will not transfer them home.
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.
“They should stop treating us as if we are the virus or are infected,” he said.
Some parents of affected students have even offered to pay for their transport if the government helps arrange the flights.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
There are 16 coronavirus cases in Vietnam, which shares a border with China.
In a statement, AIDA Cruises said the ship had no coronavirus cases.
“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.”
It added, “We are currently examining other options for an alternative route with AIDAvita.”
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.
The World Health Organization praised Cambodia for allowing in the cruise ship, which also has no confirmed coronavirus cases.
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.
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.
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.
Beijing Daily reported that those who refused to follow the orders would be punished, without giving further details.
BALTIMORE — The coronavirus arrived here Feb. 7 in two thumb-size vials, nested in dry ice and multiple layers of protective packaging.
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.
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.
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.
Read more here:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“I am just unlucky. That’s all I can say,” he told the Straits Times.
Asked how he could have come into contact with the coronavirus, he said: “I don’t know. No idea at all.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
It will instead broadcast Mass for followers to watch virtually.
“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.”
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.
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.
“The lifting of travel restrictions for Taiwan has been agreed,” said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Read more here:
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.
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.
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.
“We have not identified a single individual to be a super spreader,” he said.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“We urge all lawmakers to support the funding,” she said.
Meanwhile, three new coronavirus cases have been confirmed, bringing the total in Hong Kong to 56.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Roses were thrown away in huge piles,” a wholesaler, who identified himself only as Hu, told the 21st Century Business Herald on Friday.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
Japan’s government vowed to step up testing for the virus on Friday, but Health Minister Katsunobu Kato tried to play down concerns.
“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.”
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.
“The public has now come to be aware that an outbreak is spreading within Japan,” he said.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
BEIJING — China’s National Health Commission said Friday that at least 1,716 medical staff have contracted coronavirus, and six have died.
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.
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.
Read more: Chinese doctor who tried to raise alarm on coronavirus in Wuhan dies on ‘front line’ of medical fight.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
One of the other two is still awaiting results of a test.
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.
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.
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.
Read more about the conditions on board the Diamond Princess: Japan relaxes cruise ship quarantine for elderly amid fears of virus spread.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It even comes with a dance.
Singapore Ministry of Education
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Anyone who forces their way out of compounds, buildings or road connections will be detained,” Yunmeng authorities said.
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 orders will be in place for about two weeks, according to Chinese state media.
Experts have questioned the effectiveness of these lockdowns and the legality of applying “wartime” controls in this public health emergency.