China’s leaders shake up political ranks as coronavirus cases pass 63,000; Japan announces second virus fatality outside China
(about 3 hours later)
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.
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 Ma Guoqiang, the party boss overseeing Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, has been replaced by Wang Zhonglin, an official from eastern Shandong province.
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’s what we know:
● 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.
● The political shake-up in Communist Party ranks underscored Chinese leaders’ jitters about the potential for the outbreak to fuel domestic instability.
● 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.
● 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.”
● 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.
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.
More than 63,000 confirmed cases and approximately 1,380 deaths have been reported in China since the outbreak began.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
Hashimoto thanked the passengers and crew members for their “patience and cooperation.”
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.
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.
Nicolas de Francqueville, a priest running a Hong Kong parish, told Vatican News that the coronavirus outbreak was both a crisis and an opportunity.
“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.
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.
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.
The total number of confirmed cases in Hubei province now stands at nearly 52,000, accounting for the majority of cases worldwide.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That led to a strike by medical workers demanding a full border closure and greater anti-virus protections on the job.
That has fed worries in Hong Kong that the local outbreak could get worse.
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 virus art is seen as a natural extension from the months of street unrest.
“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.
“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.”
Read more here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“If experience has taught us anything, we should anticipate that there will be more individuals,” Taplitz said.
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.
“They are obviously aware that they have the infection. They’re grappling with that and what it means,” she said.
TORONTO — The novel coronavirus is projected to shrink the Canadian economy this quarter, the country’s parliamentary watchdog said Thursday.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
But, he added, China is more important to the global economy than it was in 2003.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Read more here.
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.
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.
The dramatic rise shook global markets Thursday amid fears that the spread of the virus could be more severe than had been suspected.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“Overall revenue will be negatively impacted,” she said.
The company reported a rise in revenue for the quarter that ended in December, when net income rose by 58 percent, Bloomberg reported.
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.
The outbreak “will present near term challenges to Alibaba’s businesses across the board,” chief executive Daniel Zhang said in the call, Bloomberg reported.
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.
If the company’s overall revenue falls in the March quarter, it would be the first such decline on record.
People in Singapore have a message for medics battling coronavirus this Valentine’s Day: “Thank you, health-care heroes.”
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.
Singapore has 50 confirmed cases of the disease now known as covid-19.
“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.”
He added, “We need courage, we need to be brave, and right now who else is doing that but the healthcare workers.”
People have been sharing their messages on Instagram under the hashtag #braveheartsg.
“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.”
“Thank you for being brave, courageous, selfless and patient,” reads another message. “Your sacrifices are greatly seen and appreciated.”
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.
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.
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 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.”
While calling for caution, Ryan also noted that the WHO still wants to know “how big is the iceberg.”
He added, “We have work to do just to see how big that iceberg is.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read more: “Japan relaxes cruise ship quarantine for elderly amid fears of virus spread”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cambodian officials tested 20 passengers for the coronavirus as a precautionary measure. No positive results have been noted.
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.
“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.”
The World Health Organization on Wednesday praised Cambodia for providing “an example of the international solidarity we have consistently been calling for.”
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page Friday that he would meet with passengers.
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.
WASHINGTON — The CDC confirmed the 15th case of coronavirus in the United States on Thursday morning.
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.
The CDC said the person is the first of those quarantined in Texas who had symptoms and tested positive for the virus.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.’ ”
All staff who came into contact with the patient “were undergoing active surveillance as a precautionary measure,” he added.
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.
The patient is the first coronavirus patient confirmed in the British capital, bringing the total number to nine.
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.
“My primary concern is the health and safety of our countrymen,” Duterte said, according to his spokesman Salvador Panelo.
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.
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.
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.
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 — 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.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the woman lived in Kanagawa prefecture, just outside Tokyo.
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.
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.
Japan has confirmed 31 cases of the virus, but the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored in Yokohama harbor has recorded an additional 218 cases.
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.
“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.”
Singapore’s Health Ministry confirmed eight new coronavirus cases, bringing the city-state’s total up to 58.
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.
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.
“[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.
Before the new cases announced Thursday, eight Singaporean coronavirus patients were in critical condition.
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.
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.
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.”
South Korea’s economy is heavily dependent on China, which accounts for the biggest share of South Korea’s exports and imports.
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.
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.
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.
Last year, South Korea had more than 6 million tourists from China, accounting for one-third of all foreigners traveling to the country.
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.
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.
The new figures also reflect diagnoses made by doctors’ overall assessments rather than the results of nucleic acid testing.
Some researchers welcomed the announcement.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
“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.
Minzner speculated that central leaders may be hesitant about letting every jurisdiction revise its numbers upward under the looser guidelines.
“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.
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.
The current ban had been due to expire on Saturday, but officials have now pushed it back by another week.
“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.
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.
Officials have advised Australians not to travel to mainland China, and have asked those returning to isolate themselves for 14 days.
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 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.
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.
Vietnam has also just announced its 16th confirmed case of coronavirus, and the patient is also from the same province.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Anxious Internet users started leaving comments under the commission’s microblog pleading for their daily update.
“What about today’s numbers? Brother? Have you forgotten? The whole country is waiting for the numbers!” the user “L520Hkongkong” wrote.
“It is because today’s number is so over the top that they’re just not going to update at all?” wrote “actressmunana.”
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.
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.
“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. https://t.co/Cy5lipfRyQ pic.twitter.com/KhUBmILGVA
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.”