Toll climbs to 304

Toll climbs to 304

China ramped up measures to contain the coronavirus epidemic and shore up an economy hit by travel curbs and business shutdowns on Sunday.

Some 304 people have died in China, the country’s National Health Commission said on Sunday. Infections in China jumped to 14,380 as of Saturday, after their biggest daily rise, the commission added.

The virus outbreak is still “severe and complicated”, Xiao Juhua, the vice-governor of Hubei where Wuhan is located, told a news conference.

At least another 171 cases have been reported in more than two dozen other countries and regions, including the US, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Britain.

Beijing is facing mounting isolation as the countries introduce travel restrictions, airlines suspend flights and governments evacuate their citizens, risking worsening a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.

China’s central bank said it would inject a hefty 1.2 trillion yuan ($173.8 billion) worth of liquidity into the markets via reverse repo operations on Monday as the country prepares to reopen its stock markets after an extended Lunar New Year holiday.

China Evergrande Group, the nation’s third-largest property developer, said in an internal note on Sunday it would extend its Lunar New Year holiday to February 16, and suspend construction work at all of its 1,246 sites until February 20.

In Beijing, some malls stayed open, but staff stood outside offering to take customers’ temperatures. Many other shops and cafes in the capital chose to close.

“We can’t work and have no income. I would rather work than stay at home and do nothing,” said 32-year-old restaurant worker Wu Caixia in the capital.

Wuhan was about to open two new hospitals for virus patients, state broadcaster CCTV and the Xinhua news agency reported. One of the facilities was built in eight days, they added.

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First death outside China, in Philippines

First death outside China, in Philippines

The Philippines on Sunday said a 44-year-old Chinese man had died of the new coronavirus, the first fatality outside China, prompting tighter travel restrictions for both Filipinos and foreigners.

The department of health said there were now two confirmed infections in the Philippines, including the man from Wuhan in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, who died on Saturday.

The man, who was admitted to a government hospital in Manila on January 25, had developed severe pneumonia, the department said.

The man was a companion of a 38-year-old Chinese woman, also from Wuhan, who was the first to test positive for the virus in the Philippines.

Both patients arrived in the Philippines via Hong Kong on January 21, the health department said.

While the patient who died was “stable and showed signs of improvement” during his last few days in the hospital, his condition deteriorated in the 24 hours before he died, health secretary Francisco Duque told reporters.

“We are currently working with the Chinese embassy to ensure the dignified management of the remains according to national and international standards to contain the disease,” he said.

Duque said all measures needed to contain the spread of the virus were being strictly implemented and followed, including by health personnel who came in contact with the two patients.

“This health event is fast-evolving and fluid. We are continuously recalibrating our plans and efforts as the situation develops,” Duque said.

Some Filipinos were worried after health officials announced the first fatality of the new coronavirus in the Philippines.

“It really is frightening because the virus will spread,” said 49-year-old Lyn Romano, who has been wearing a face mask since last week, when the Philippines’ first positive case was confirmed.

Twenty-four patients previously under investigation for infection tested negative for the new coronavirus, while samples from four other patients were still being tested, the health department said.

Passengers aboard the flights of the two positive cases were being traced.

Cebu Air Inc, which operates the Cebu Pacific airline, said it was working closely with health authorities to contact all passengers aboard those two flights on January 21.

The two patients had taken Cebu Pacific flights from Hong Kong to Cebu and from Cebu to Dumaguete in central Philippines, the airline said in a statement.

The cabin crew and pilots on the affected flights have been quarantined, and the aircraft have undergone thorough disinfection, it said.

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Fears of new hotspots

Fears of new hotspots

A jump in infections in two Chinese cities flanking Wuhan, the epicentre of a rapidly-spreading virus epidemic, is fuelling fear that new hot spots are emerging in a province where strict transport curbs have already brought most activity to a halt.

China’s central province of Hubei has been the site of almost 60 per cent of infections, as well as more than 95 per cent of deaths, in an episode the World Health Organisation has declared a global health emergency.

But the province’s two cities of Huanggang and Xiaogan, with combined populations of more than 12 million, have racked up more than 11 per cent of global infections and deaths.

As the virus in these cities spreads faster than in Wuhan itself and other sites outside a lockdown zone, the first dismissal of a senior health official in Hubei has spurred authorities to push for more effective measures.

“Medical supplies are in very short supply,” provincial governor Wang Xiaodong said. “Not only are there shortages in Wuhan and surrounding cities, but they are generally severely deficient in other parts of the province.”

Conditions in Huanggang, which had reported 573 infections and 12 deaths, are particularly severe, he warned in remarks on Wednesday, urging every effort to keep the city from becoming a second Wuhan.

Tang Zhihong, the head of Huanggang’s health commission, was dismissed on Thursday after state television broadcast images that showed her unable to respond to questions about the number of hospital beds and patients in the city.

Huanggang had insufficient screening procedures for suspected cases, slow testing processes and lack of testing personnel, inspectors from China’s central government has found.

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Russians advised to refrain from kissing

Russians advised to refrain from kissing

Russia’s consumer health watchdog advised people on Friday to refrain from greeting each other with handshakes, kisses or hugs and to wear medical masks in crowded public places to try to stop China’s virus outbreak spreading to Russia.

Russia, which has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus but has close ties with its southeastern neighbour, has imposed border restrictions to prevent its spread.

Rospotrebnadzor, the state watchdog, told Russian businesses that employ Chinese nationals to extend their holidays until further notice if the employees are already on leave in China.

It also issued new hygiene guidelines in which it advised Russians to tie back long hair, avoid touching door knobs and banisters in public places and to avoid close contact with people with flu symptoms.

Russia said on Wednesday it would keep its land border with China closed to pedestrians and vehicles.

Rail freight is continuing to circulate between the two countries, direct daily flights are continuing, and a passenger train that operates between Moscow and Beijing remains in service.

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China labels US ‘truly mean’ for travel curbs

China labels US ‘truly mean’ for travel curbs

The US and other countries tightened travel curbs on Friday and businesses said they were facing supply problems because of the coronavirus in China, a day after the World Health Organisation declared a global health emergency.

With the death toll rising to 213, all of them in China, the US warned Americans not to travel to the Asian country, where the outbreak first appeared in Wuhan, capital of the central Hubei province.

Japan advised citizens to put off non-urgent travel to China, Iran’s health minister urged a ban on all travellers from China and Britain reported its first two cases of the virus.

Singapore said it was suspending entry to travellers with a recent history of travel to China and suspending visas for Chinese passport holders. The ban will also apply to those transiting Singapore, a major travel hub.

Italy’s government decided to declare a state of emergency and stopped all air traffic with China after announcing its first cases, in two Chinese tourists.

Stock markets steadied slightly after the WHO praised China’s efforts to contain the virus, following a tumble the previous day over a rising toll on the world’s second-biggest economy and its knock-on effect worldwide.

The outbreak could “reverberate globally”, hitting supply chains, Moody’s said.

Hyundai Motor said it planned to halt South Korean production of a sport utility vehicle this weekend to cope with a supply disruption caused by the outbreak. Sangyong Motor said it would idle its plant in the South Korean city of Pyeongtaek from February 4-12 for the same reason.

Home appliance maker Electrolux issued a similar warning. French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen said its three plants in Wuhan will remain closed until February 14.

“Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan,” the US state department said on its website, raising the warning for China to the same level as Afghanistan and Iraq.

China has taken “the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures”, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in response to the WHO declaration. Hubei is in virtual lockdown.

“We have full confidence and capability to win this fight,” Hua Chunying said in a statement.

But a jump in infections in two cities flanking Wuhan was fuelling fear that new hot spots were emerging. And people were leaving and entering Hubei by foot over a bridge spanning the Yangtze river, a Reuters witness said.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had commended China for its efforts and said the WHO was not recommending curbs on travel or trade with Beijing. A WHO spokesman said keeping borders open prevented illegal or unofficial border crossings.

The number of confirmed cases in China has risen beyond 9,800, Beijing’s envoy to the UN in Vienna said. China’s health ministry said there were 15,238 suspected cases in China at the end of Thursday.

Some 131 cases have been reported in 23 other countries and regions.

The WHO has reported at least eight instances of human-to-human transmission in four countries: the US, Germany, Japan and Vietnam. Thailand said on Friday it too had a case of human-to-human transmission.

Some airlines have stopped flying to mainland China, including Air France KLM SA, British Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic. Others have cut flights.

Japan’s ANA Holdings said it may consider suspending China flights.

Several foreign governments evacuating citizens from Hubei are holding them in quarantine for a 14-day incubation period. A plane carrying Britons and other Europeans left Wuhan on Friday, Britain’s embassy said.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country’s National Health Service was“extremely well prepared” to deal with the outbreak.

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6000 stuck on Italian cruise ship

6000 stuck on Italian cruise ship

Some 6,000 people are being kept on board an Italian cruise ship as tests are carried out on a passenger from Macau to see if she has coronavirus, a spokesman for the Costa Crociere cruise company said on Thursday.

The 54-year-old woman arrived with her partner in Italy on Jan. 25 and boarded the ship, the Costa Smeralda, in the port of Savona that same day. She subsequently came down with a fever and flu-like symptoms, and both herself and her partner have been placed in an isolation unit about the ship, Costa Crociere said in a statement.

The liner has visited Marseilles in France, and the Spanish ports of Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca this week before docking on Thursday at Civitavecchia, north of Rome.

No one was being allowed off the ship while medical checks were carried out to see if the pair had the potentially deadly coronavirus, the company spokesman said. He said it might take “a few hours” before the situation became clearer. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government was ready to take further steps if necessary.

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‘Devil’ virus infects 8100 worldwide

‘Devil’ virus infects 8100 worldwide

Infection from China’s coronavirus spread to more than 8,100 people globally on Thursday, surpassing the total from the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic in a fast-spreading health crisis forecast to deal a heavy blow to the world’s second-largest economy.

The vast majority of infections are in China where the virus originated in an illegal wildlife market in the city of Wuhan and has also claimed 170 lives, latest official data showed.

More than 100 cases have emerged in other countries, from Japan to the United States.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which has so far held off declaring the flu-like coronavirus a global emergency, began another meeting in Geneva to reconsider.

Such a declaration would trigger tighter containment and information-sharing guidelines, but may disappoint Beijing, which had expressed confidence in defeating the “devil” virus.

It could also further spook markets, already shuddering at the ripple effects of damage to China’s economy. “The fear is that they (the WHO) might raise the alarm bells … so people are taking money off the table,” said Chris Weston, head of research at Melbourne brokerage Pepperstone.

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome also came from China, killing about 800 people and costing the global economy an estimated $33 billion, or 0.1 per cent of world GDP, in 2003.

Economists fear the impact on global growth could be bigger this time as China now accounts for a larger share of the world economy. One Chinese economist has forecast the crisis would lop a percentage point off China’s first-quarter growth.

Global stocks tumbled on Thursday, while the yuan hit its lowest this year, oil prices slid again and safe haven assets like gold gained.

The main stock index in Taiwan, 40 per cent of whose exports go to neighbouring China, closed down 5.75 per cent on the first day of trade after the Lunar New Year holiday.

In the corporate world, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Sweden’s IKEA were the latest big names to close China operations. South Korea’s Samsung Electronics extended holiday closure for some Chinese production facilities.

Airlines to suspend flights to mainland China include Lufthansa, Air Canada, American Airlines and British Airways.

Air France cabin crew unions were demanding the same, sources said, though the company has already allowed pilots and crew to opt out of China flights.

Fuelling concern over damage to productivity, thousands of Chinese factory workers on Lunar New Year holidays may struggle to get back to work next week, because of travel restrictions.

Policymakers are anxious, with China dominating US federal reserve chair Jerome Powell’s news conference on Wednesday. “China’s economy is very important in the global economy now, and when China’s economy slows down we do feel that,” he said.

Streets in many Chinese cities were largely deserted and tourist attractions shut. Starbucks coffee shops were requiring temperature checks and masks.

Cases of human-to-human transmission outside China are of particular concern to medics, but it is too early to determine how lethal the coronavirus is, as there are likely to be many cases of milder infections going undetected.

It has an incubation time of between one and 14 days.

With local officials facing a backlash from China’s public, especially over their early response, the health chief of Huanggang city — also in Hubei province, with a population of 7.5 million — was dismissed, authorities said. No explanation was given.

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US advises against travel to China; virus declared emergency

US advises against travel to China; virus declared emergency

The US advised against all travel to China on Friday after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of a new virus that has spread to more than a dozen countries a global emergency. The number of cases spiked more than tenfold in a week, including the highest death toll in a 24-hour period reported Friday.

The State Department’s travel advisory told Americans currently in China to consider departing using commercial means, and requested that all non-essential US government personnel defer travel “in light of the novel coronavirus.”

China counted 9,692 confirmed cases with a death toll of 213, including 43 new fatalities. The vast majority of the cases have been in Hubei province and its provincial capital, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. No deaths have been reported outside China.

Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry said it will send charter flights to bring home residents of Hubei from overseas.

The one-sentence statement gave few details, but said those from Hubei and especially Wuhan would be sent directly back to Wuhan as soon as possible in light of the “practical difficulties” they were encountering.

China has placed more than 50 million people in the region under virtual quarantine, while foreign countries have cut back severely on travel to the country and quarantined those who recently passed through Wuhan. The virus is believed to have a two-week incubation period, during which those infected can pass on the illness even if they show no symptoms such as fever and cough.

In the seven days ending at midnight Thursday, the National Health Commission reported 596 cases have been “cured and discharged from hospital.”

The UN health agency defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

China first informed WHO about cases of the new virus in late December. Eighteen other countries have since reported cases, as scientists race to understand how exactly the virus is spreading and how severe it is.

Experts say there is significant evidence the virus is spreading among people in China and have noted with concern instances in other countries — including the United States, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea and Vietnam — where there have also been isolated cases of human-to-human transmission.

On Friday, the US Embassy in Beijing said it was authorizing the departure of family members and all non-emergency US government employees from Beijing and the consulates in the cities of Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang. Staff from the Wuhan consulate departed earlier this week.

The decision was made “out of an abundance of caution related to logistical disruptions stemming from restricted transportation and availability of appropriate health care related to the novel coronavirus,” the embassy said.

The level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory is the highest grade of warning.

Mike Wester, an American businessman in Beijing who has lived in China for 19 years, said he has no plans to leave.

“I feel safer self-quarantining myself here at home than I do risking travel,” said Wester.

He pointed to potential risks from crowds at airports and being required to remove a mask for passport and security checks.

Speaking by Skype from Utah, Kelly Flanagan, 36, a school counselor in China since 2011, said she is planning to stay out of China as she watches the virus spread.

“This is probably going to be awhile,” said Flanagan, who said her Type 1 diabetes added to her health concerns. From the US she is working remotely with her students to help them pass English proficiency exams.

Among other countries, Japan advised against travel to China and Britain against “all but essential travel” to the country, not including Hong Kong and Macao. British Airways has already suspended all flights to and from mainland China.

“If you feel that you may want to leave China soon, you should consider making plans to do so before any further restrictions may be imposed,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Thursday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted the worrisome spread of the virus between people outside China.

“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China but because of what is happening in other countries,” he said. “Our greatest concern is the potential for this virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it.”

“This declaration is not a vote of non-confidence in China,” he said. “On the contrary, WHO continues to have the confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”

A declaration of a global emergency typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous governments to restrict travel and trade to affected countries. The announcement also imposes more disease reporting requirements on countries.

China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said Thursday evening in New York that “we are still at a very critical stage in fighting the coronavirus” but stressed that the epidemic is still mainly confined to China and urged the international community against any overreaction.

Zhang told reporters “we are still making our assessment” of the WHO declaration.

“While we understand the concerns of other countries, we should also listen to advice of the director-general of WHO” who said he had full confidence in China’s efforts in fighting the epidemic and “there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with the international travel and trade,” Zhang said.

He said China appreciated “the friendly gesture made by the international community” in providing medical equipment, and “what are needed urgently,” especially in Hubei province, are masks and other protective medical supplies including glasses.

In the wake of numerous airlines cancelling flights to China and businesses including Starbucks and McDonald’s temporarily closing hundreds of shops, Tedros said WHO was not recommending limiting travel or trade to China.

“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” he said. He added that Chinese President Xi Jinping had committed to help stop the spread of the virus beyond its borders.

Although scientists expect to see limited transmission of the virus between people with close contact, like within families, the instances of spread to people who may have had less exposure to the virus in Japan and Germany is worrying.

In Japan, a man in his 60s caught the virus after working as a bus driver for two tour groups from Wuhan. In Germany, a man in his 30s was sickened after a Chinese colleague from Shanghai, whose parents had recently visited from Wuhan, came to his office for a business meeting. Four other workers later became infected. The woman had shown no symptoms of the virus until her flight back to China.

“That’s the kind of transmission chain that we don’t want to see,” said Marion Koopmans, an infectious diseases specialist at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and a member of WHO’s emergency committee.

The new virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened there during the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a cousin of the new virus. Both are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that can cause the common cold.

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Infected woman gives birth to baby boy

Infected woman gives birth to baby boy

Chinese doctors have safely delivered a baby boy from a Chinese woman suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus through a caesarean section in the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.

The doctor who performed the caesarean said the 27-year-old mother’s condition had been deteriorating and the baby was putting too much pressure on her. At the same time, the woman could not get proper treatment for her illness while carrying the baby.

But the surgery was extremely dangerous as the mother had a fever and was coughing non-stop while the doctors faced the risk of infection with the coronavirus, state television reported.

The doctor who performed the operation, Zhao Yin, deputy director at the obstetrics and gynaecology department at Wuhan Union Hospital, wore two protective suits, a face mask and goggles during the one-hour surgery.

“I could barely see or hear anything,” Zhao told state television.“And I was soaked with sweat.”

The mother, identified only as Xiaoyan, was 37 weeks pregnant when she was suspected of being infected by the coronavirus in early January. Her infection has not been confirmed, state television said. The 3.1kg baby boy was sent home as quickly as possible to avoid the danger of it being exposed to the virus in hospital, state TV said.

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Pro-Israel W. Asia plan unveiled by Trump

Pro-Israel W. Asia plan unveiled by Trump

President Trump unveiled his long-awaited West Asia peace plan with a flourish on Monday, outlining a proposal that would give Israel most of what it has sought over decades of conflict while creating what he called a Palestinian state with limited sovereignty.

Trump’s plan would guarantee that Israel would control a unified Jerusalem as its capital and not require it to uproot any of the settlements in the West Bank that have provoked Palestinian outrage and alienated much of the outside world. He promised to provide $50 billion in international financing to build the new Palestinian entity and open an embassy in its new state.

“My vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides, a realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood into security,” the President said at a White House ceremony that demonstrated the one-sided state of affairs as he was flanked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel but no counterpart from the Palestinian leadership, which is not on speaking terms with the Trump administration.

Trump insisted his plan would be good for the Palestinians. “President Abbas,” he said, “I want you to know if you choose the path to peace, America and many other countries, we will be there.”

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