Coronavirus Forces China To Suspend Flights, Train Trips Out Of Affected City

Health officers screen arriving passengers from China with thermal scanners at Changi International airport in Singapore on January 22, 2020 as authorities increased measure against coronavirus. ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP

 

Authorities will suspend on Thursday flights and trains out of the Chinese city at the centre of a deadly virus outbreak, and say residents should not leave without a special reason, state media said.

The move, effective at 10:00 am (0200 GMT), is meant to “resolutely contain the momentum of the epidemic spreading” and protect lives, the central city’s special command centre against the virus said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

AFP

SARS-Like Virus Death Toll Rises To 17

Medical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on January 18, 2020.

 

The death toll from a new SARS-like China virus that has infected hundreds rose to 17, authorities said on Wednesday.

Officials in Hubei, the central Chinese province whose capital is the epicentre of the epidemic, said at a televised news conference that the total number of people in the region infected with the new coronavirus was 444.

AFP

SARS-Like Virus: UK Steps Up Checks On Flights

Passengers wearing face masks arrive at the ferry terminal in Macau from Hong Kong on January 22, 2020, after China recently confirmed human-to-human transmission in the outbreak of the new SARS-like virus.  Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Britain on Wednesday enhanced monitoring of flights from the central China city at the heart of a new SARS-like virus that has killed nine people and spread to the United States.

Public Health England also raised the risk level of infection from “very low” to “low” because of the potential for human-to-human transmission.

“From today, enhanced monitoring will be in place for all direct flights from Wuhan to the UK,” the health service said in a statement.

Health teams will meet each of the three weekly direct flights from Wuhan to London “to provide advice and support to those that feel unwell”, it said.

Mandarin and Cantonese language-speaking staff will also be on hand. The statement said the measures could be expanded to “other Chinese departure points if necessary”.

The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-03.

The new virus is known to have infected hundreds, although doctors fear its true scale could be higher.

The United States on Tuesday confirmed its first case of a person with the new virus. European countries have registered no cases to date.

London’s Heathrow airport, which is Europe’s busiest, said the stepped-up checks were “a precaution”.

“We would like to reassure passengers that the government assesses the risk of a traveller contracting coronavirus to be low,” a Heathrow spokesperson said.

Romanian health authorities on Wednesday also said they intend to introduce screening measures at airports.

Elsewhere in Europe, Italy’s health ministry said it would introduce temperature checks for passengers arriving on the next scheduled direct arrival from Wuhan to Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

The airport has three direct flights a week with Wuhan.

French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said authorities were monitoring the situation but not following the lead of nations such as Russia, which has put up posters telling passengers what to do in case of symptoms.

Such measures are not recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), Buzyn said, and are “not very effective”.

A WHO spokesman said Tuesday that “based on currently available information, there is no justification for any restriction of travel or trade”.

German health authorities said they had also refrained from taking any measures at airports.

AFP

Asia Steps Up Defence After SARS Virus Kills Six In China

Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) personnel (R) using thermal scanners to screen passengers arriving on a flight from China’s Wuhan province, where a SARS-like virus was discovered and has since spread, at the Taoyuan International Airport.  Chen Chi-chuan / AFP

 

Asian countries on Tuesday ramped up measures to block the spread of a new virus as the death toll in China rose to six and the number of cases jumped to almost 300, raising concerns in the middle of a major holiday travel rush.

From Australia to Thailand and as far as Nepal, nations stepped up fever checks of passengers at airports to detect the SARS-like coronavirus, which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Fears of a bigger outbreak rose after a prominent expert from China’s National Health Commission confirmed late Monday that the virus can be passed between people.

Authorities previously said there was no obvious evidence of person-to-person transmission and animals were suspected to be the source, as a seafood market where live animals were sold in Wuhan was identified as the centre of the outbreak.

The confirmation of human transmission comes as hundreds of millions of people are crisscrossing China in packed buses, trains and planes this week to celebrate the Lunar New Year with relatives.

Almost 80 new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total number of people hit by the virus in China to 291, with the vast majority in Hubei, the province where Wuhan lies, and others in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong, according to the National Health Commission. State media said one case was found in Zhejiang province.

 Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) personnel using thermal scanners to screen passengers arriving on a flight from China’s Wuhan province, where a SARS-like virus was discovered and has since spread, at the Taoyuan International Airport.  Chen Chi-chuan / AFP

Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV that the death toll had risen from four to six.

China said it would attend a special World Health Organization meeting on Wednesday which will determine whether to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which was detected in Thailand, Japan and South Korea among four people who had visited Wuhan.

The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Fever checks 

At four airports in Thailand, authorities introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China. Anyone exhibiting signs of fever will be quarantined for 24 hours for monitoring.

Around 1,300 passengers are expected each day in Thailand from Wuhan over Chinese New Year, which starts on Friday.

In Hong Kong, where memories of SARS still haunt the city, authorities said they were on “extreme high alert”, with passengers from Wuhan required to fill out health declarations and face possible jail time if they do not declare symptoms.

“We are … preparing for the worst. We have not lowered our guard,” Hong Kong’s number two leader, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, told reporters.

Taiwan went onto its second-highest alert level for those travelling to and from Wuhan, advising visitors to avoid visiting any live poultry markets while screening has been stepped up at airports.

Enhanced screening measures have also been set up at airports in Australia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore, and the United States.

A man showing symptoms of the disease who had travelled to Wuhan has been put in isolation in Australia as health officials await test results, authorities said Tuesday.

In China, the government announced Tuesday it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as SARS, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.

In Wuhan, authorities banned tour groups and police were conducting spot checks for live poultry or wild animals in vehicles leaving and entering the city, state media said.

Passengers were being screened for fever at the airport, railway stations and bus terminals. Those with fevers would be registered, handed masks and advised to see a doctor, and they would not have to pay to change their tickets.

WHO meeting 

Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission, raised the alarm when he said on Monday that patients can contract the virus without having visited Wuhan, though he added that it was milder than SARS.

The WHO had previously identified animals as the likely primary source, but had warned of “some limited human-to-human transmission”.

Doctors at the University of Hong Kong released a study on Tuesday estimating that there have been 1,343 cases of the new virus in Wuhan. Scientists at Imperial College in London said last week the number was likely closer to 1,700.

The WHO has only called a global public health emergency a handful of times, including during the H1N1 — or swine flu — pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.

The Communist government was accused of covering up the SARS outbreak in 2003 but some foreign experts have praised the swift release of information on this new virus.

“China is willing to continue to deepen international cooperation, join hands with the international community to respond to the epidemic, and jointly maintain regional and global health security,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.

AFP

China Confirms Death Of Six In SARS Virus

 

The death toll from a new China virus that is transmissible between humans rose to six, the mayor of Wuhan said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV Tuesday.

According to Zhou Xianwang, the central Chinese city — believed to be the epicentre of the epidemic — has seen a total of 258 cases, including 227 patients who are still receiving medical treatment.

AFP

Number Of Confirmed SARS Virus Cases Jumps To Nearly 300 In China

People wearing protective masks are seen in front of the Huashan Hospital in Shanghai on January 21, 2020.  HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP

 

The number of people in China infected by a new SARS-like virus jumped to 291 on Tuesday, according to authorities.

There have been nearly 80 new confirmed cases of the virus that has so far killed four people, with over 900 still under medical observation, said the National Health Commission.

READ ALSO: Scientists Raise Alarm Over China Virus, As Countries Take Measures

South Korea Confirms First Case Of SARS-Like Virus From China

South Korea on Monday confirmed its first case of the SARS-like virus that is spreading in China, as concerns mount about a wider outbreak.

A 35-year-old Chinese woman who flew in from Wuhan, the apparent epicentre of the outbreak, was confirmed to have the new coronavirus strain, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.

She went to the hospital in Wuhan on Saturday with symptoms of a cold and was prescribed medication before flying to Incheon airport on Sunday, where she was taken into quarantine.

Her infection was confirmed on Monday, when she was in stable condition and being treated in an isolation unit at a medical facility.

“She was visiting Seoul on a tour for the Lunar New Year holidays,” said KCDC director Jung Eun-kyeong, adding Korean authorities were investigating her movement on the plane and those who might have come in contact with her, including flight attendants.

“As she was detected at the quarantine stage there has been no exposure for locals,” she added.

The outbreak has caused alarm because the new virus is from the same family as the pathogen that causes SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 349 people in mainland China and 299 in Hong Kong in 2002 and 2003.

No cases of human-to-human transmission have been confirmed so far, but authorities have previously said the possibility “cannot be excluded”.

Authorities in Wuhan said a seafood market was the centre of the outbreak. It was closed on January 1.

The woman told the South Korean authorities she had not visited the market, nor had she knowingly come into contact with infected patients in Wuhan.

AFP

SARS-Like Virus Spreads In China

Medical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on January 18, 2020. PHOTO: WUHAN, CHINA/AFP

 

A new SARS-like virus has killed a third person, spread around China and reached a third Asian country, authorities said on Monday, fuelling fears of a major outbreak as millions begin travelling for the Lunar New Year in humanity’s biggest migration.

The new coronavirus strain, first discovered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has caused alarm because of its connection to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Wuhan has 11 million inhabitants and serves as a major transport hub, including during the annual Lunar New Year holiday which begins later this week and sees hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel across the country to visit family.

A third person was confirmed to have died and 136 new cases were found over the weekend in Wuhan, the local health commission said, taking the total number of people to have been diagnosed with the virus in China to 201.

Medical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on January 18, 2020. PHOTO: STR / AFP

 

South Korea on Monday reported its first case — a 35-year-old woman who flew in from Wuhan. Thailand and Japan have previously confirmed a total of three cases — all of whom had visited the Chinese city.

No human-to-human transmission has been confirmed so far, but authorities have not ruled out the possibility.

Health authorities in Beijing’s Daxing district said two people who had travelled to Wuhan were treated for pneumonia linked to the virus and are in a stable condition.

In southern Guangdong province, a 66-year-old Shenzhen man was quarantined on January 11 after contracting a fever and showing other symptoms following a trip to visit relatives in Wuhan, the provincial health commission said. He is also in a stable condition.

Another 44 people are under medical observation in Beijing, as well as a dozen more in Shenzhen and eastern Zhejiang province, according to state media.

“Experts believe that the current epidemic situation can still be controlled,” the National Health Commission said Sunday.

But the commission acknowledged that the source of the coronavirus and its mode of transmission have yet to be known.

The virus did not slow down the annual holiday travel rush, though some travellers wore masks at crowded railway stations in Beijing and Shanghai.

“Watching the news, I do feel a little worried. But I haven’t taken precautionary measures beyond wearing regular masks,” said Li Yang, a 28-year-old account manager who was heading home to the northern region of Inner Mongolia for the Lunar New Year.

 Detection measures

A seafood market is believed to be the centre of the outbreak in Wuhan, but health officials have reported that some patients had no history of contact with the facility.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Twitter Monday that “an animal source seems the most likely primary source” with “some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts”.

It said the new cases in China were the result of “increased searching and testing for (the virus) among people sick with respiratory illness”.

Scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London warned in a paper published Friday that the number of cases in the city was likely to be closer to 1,700, much higher than the number officially identified.

Wuhan authorities said they have installed infrared thermometers at airports, railway stations and coach stations across the city. Passengers with fevers were being registered, given masks and taken to medical institutions.

State TV footage aired Monday showed medical staff working inside an isolation ward at a Wuhan hospital in full-body suits.

In Hong Kong, health officials announced they were expanding their enhanced checks on arrivals to include anyone coming in from Hubei province, not just Wuhan, its capital. Over 100 people are being monitored in the city.

Passengers are also being screened at some airports in Thailand and the United States.

In Wuhan, 170 people are still being treated at hospital, including nine in critical condition, the city health commission said, adding that 25 people have been discharged so far.

Chinese state media moved to calm the mood as discussion about the coronavirus spreading to other Chinese cities swelled on social media.

Nationalist tabloid Global Times called for better handling of the new virus than that of the 2003 SARS outbreak.

The foreign ministry said Monday that Beijing had informed the WHO and other countries about the virus “in a timely manner”.

AFP

China Moves To Phase-Out Plastic Waste

A woman scours through a pile of waste on the side of a road in Bac Ninh, east of Hanoi on December 16, 2019. PHOTO: Nhac NGUYEN / AFP

 

China will ban non-degradable plastic bags in major cities and single-use straws from restaurants by the end of this year in a bid to cut down on waste.

The country is one of the world’s biggest users of plastic, and the plan targets a 30 percent reduction in non-degradable, disposable tableware for takeout in major cities within five years.

In a document released Sunday, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said the production and sale of disposable foam and plastic tableware will be banned by the end of the year.

The plan also outlaws non-degradable, single-use straws in the catering industry this year, while disposable plastic products should not be “actively provided” by hotels by 2022.

By 2025, the authorities said they planned to effectively control plastic pollution and cut the amount of waste in landfills of key cities, on top of setting up a management system.

The bid to contain pollution comes as decades of rapid development and a drive for convenience have created huge levels of waste.

China produced 210 million tonnes of trash in 2017, according to World Bank figures, which warns that could soar to 500 million tonnes annually by 2030.

The targets extend to plastic packaging used in postal services as well.

Postal delivery outlets in areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Jiangsu will ban the use of non-degradable plastic packaging bags and disposable plastic woven bags by the end of 2022.

More than 2.3 billion parcels were shipped in the aftermath of last year’s massive shopping festival Singles Day, according to China’s postal authority.

AFP

6.0-Magnitude Earthquake Hits Chinese Region

 

A 6.0 magnitude earthquake hit a remote area of northwest China’s Xinjiang region late Sunday, the US Geological Survey said.

The shallow quake struck at 9:27 pm (1327 GMT) around 100 kilometers (60 miles) east-northeast of the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar.

In its initial assessment, the USGS said there was a low likelihood of casualties.

It said however that significant damage was likely, with many buildings in the region built from mud bricks or cinder block masonry.

The area near the quake’s epicenter is sparsely populated mountain and desert terrain.

China is regularly hit by earthquakes, especially in its mountainous western and southwestern regions.

In February 2003 a powerful 6.8-magnitude quake killed 268 people in Xinjiang and caused significant damage.

AFP

China Records 17 New Cases Of Deadly SARS Virus

edical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on January 18, 2020. STR / AFP
edical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on January 18, 2020. STR / AFP

 

China reported 17 new cases of the mysterious SARS-like virus on Sunday, including three people in serious condition, heightening fears ahead of China’s Lunar New Year holiday when hundreds of millions of people move around the country.

The new coronavirus strain has caused alarm because of its connection to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Of the 17 new cases in the central city of Wuhan — believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak — three were described as “severe”, of which two patients were too critical to be moved, authorities said.

Those infected range from 30 to 79 years old.

The virus has now infected 62 people in Wuhan, city authorities said, with eight in a severe condition, 19 recovered and discharged from hospital, and the rest in isolation receiving treatment.

Two people have died so far from the virus, including a 69-year-old man on Wednesday after the disease caused pulmonary tuberculosis and damaged multiple organ functions.

Authorities said they had begun “optimised” testing of pneumonia cases across the city to identify those infected, and would begin “detection work… towards suspected cases in the city” as a next step, as well as carrying out “sampling tests”.

Scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London warned in a paper published Friday that the number of cases in the city was likely to be closer to 1,700, much higher than the number officially identified.

Authorities said Sunday that some of the cases had “no history of contact” with the seafood market believed to be the centre of the outbreak.

No human-to-human transmission has been confirmed so far, but Wuhan’s health commission has previously said the possibility “cannot be excluded”.

Three cases have also been reported overseas — two in Thailand and one in Japan.

Rumour quashing

Though China has not yet reported cases outside of Wuhan, discussion about the coronavirus spreading to other Chinese cities has swelled on social media.

On Sunday evening there were more than 400 million views of the hashtag “Shanghai pneumonia” on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media site, while “Shenzhen pneumonia” garnered at least 340 million views.

China’s centre for disease control moved to quash speculation about the mysterious disease on Saturday, publishing a flyer that dismissed “five big rumours”.

One of them included claims about the coronavirus spreading, which China’s disease control authority dismissed by saying all cases were being treated in Wuhan.

A hospital in Guangzhou, a city in southern China, also moved to dispel rumours about suspected cases of the Wuhan pneumonia, reported state-run Global Times on Sunday.

The original post, which was published through the hospital’s official Weibo account on Saturday, has since been deleted.

Screening measures 

Although there has been no official announcement of screening measures on the mainland, Wuhan deputy mayor Chen Xiexin said on state broadcaster CCTV that infrared thermometers had been installed at airports, railway stations and coach stations across the city.

Chen said passengers with fevers were being registered, given masks and taken to medical institutions. Nearly 300,000 body temperature tests had been carried out, according to CCTV.

Authorities in Hong Kong have stepped up detection measures, including rigorous temperature checkpoints for inbound travellers from the Chinese mainland.

The US said from Friday it would begin screening direct flights arriving from Wuhan at San Francisco airport and New York’s JFK, as well as Los Angeles, where many flights connect.

Thailand said it was already screening passengers arriving in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket, and would soon introduce similar controls in the beach resort of Krabi.

Wuhan is a city of 11 million inhabitants that serves as a major transport hub, including during the annual Lunar New Year holiday when hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel across the country to visit family.

AFP

Scientists Raise Alarm Over China Virus, As Countries Take Measures

edical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on January 18, 2020. STR / AFP
Medical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on January 18, 2020. STR / AFP

 

The true scale of the outbreak of a mysterious SARS-like virus in China is likely far bigger than officially reported, scientists have warned, as countries ramp up measures to prevent the disease from spreading.

Fears that the virus will spread are growing ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, when hundreds of millions of Chinese move around the country and many others host or visit extended family members living overseas.

Authorities in China say two people have died and at least 45 have been infected, with the outbreak centred around a seafood market in the central city of Wuhan, a city of 11 million inhabitants that serves as a major transport hub.

READ ALSO: China Records Second Death From SARS-Linked Virus

But a paper published Friday by scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London said the number of cases in the city was likely closer to 1,700.

The researchers said their estimate was largely based on the fact that cases had been reported overseas –- two in Thailand and one in Japan.

The virus — a new strain of coronavirus that humans can contract — has caused alarm because of its connection to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

China has not announced any travel restrictions, but authorities in Hong Kong have already stepped up detection measures, including rigorous temperature checkpoints for inbound travellers from the Chinese mainland.

The US said from Friday it would begin screening flights arriving from Wuhan at San Francisco airport and New York’s JFK — which both receive direct flights — as well as Los Angeles, where many flights connect.

And Thailand said it was already screening passengers arriving in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket and would soon introduce similar controls in the beach resort of Krabi.

Two deaths

No human-to-human transmission has been confirmed so far, but Wuhan’s health commission has said the possibility “cannot be excluded”.

A World Health Organization doctor said it would not be surprising if there was “some limited human-to-human transmission, especially among families who have close contact with one another”.

Scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis — which advises bodies including the World Health Organization — said they estimated a “total of 1,723” people in Wuhan would have been infected as of January 12.

“For Wuhan to have exported three cases to other countries would imply there would have to be many more cases than have been reported,” Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the authors of the report, told the BBC.

“I am substantially more concerned than I was a week ago,” he said, while adding that it was “too early to be alarmist”.

“People should be considering the possibility of substantial human-to-human transmission more seriously than they have so far,” he continued, saying it was “unlikely” that animal exposure was the sole source of infection.

Local authorities in Wuhan said a 69-year-old man died on Wednesday, becoming the second fatal case, with the disease-causing pulmonary tuberculosis and damage to multiple organ functions.

After the death was reported, online discussion spread in China over the severity of the Wuhan coronavirus — and how much information the government may be hiding from the public.

Several complained about censorship of online posts, while others made comparisons to 2003, when Beijing drew criticism from the WHO for underreporting the number of SARS cases.

“It’s so strange,” wrote a web user on the social media platform Weibo, citing the overseas cases in Japan and Thailand. “They all have Wuhan pneumonia cases but (in China) we don’t have any infections outside of Wuhan — is that scientific?”

 

AFP