New COVID-19 May Have Emerged In Summer 2019 – Study

 

A surge in hospital visits and internet searches related to COVID-19 symptoms from the Chinese city of Wuhan suggests the coronavirus may have been circulating since August 2019, according to a preliminary study by researchers at Boston University and Harvard.

The pandemic, which has been linked to a virus that crossed over from animals to humans, was initially identified in Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market in December 2019.

Later, experts estimated a genetic ancestor to the virus emerged around mid-November 2019. A report in the South China Morning Post citing government data suggested a “patient zero” could be traced back to November 17.

The new paper, which has not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, comes under the relatively new field of “digital epidemiology.”

A team led by Elaine Nsoesie at Boston University analyzed 111 satellite images from Wuhan between January 2018 to April 2020, as well as frequently looked up symptoms on the Chinese search engine Baidu.

“A steep increase in volume starting in August 2019” was detected at Wuhan hospital parking lots, “culminating with a peak in December 2019,” the authors wrote.

Because queries for the word “cough” rise along with yearly influenza seasons, they also looked for “diarrhea” which is a more COVID-19 specific symptom.

“In August, we identify a unique increase in searches for diarrhea which was neither seen in previous flu seasons or mirrored in the cough search data,” the team said.

While respiratory symptoms are the most common hallmarks of SARS-CoV-2 infection, the study suggested that diarrhea “may play an important role in community transmission.”

The authors concluded that while they could not definitively confirm that the data they documented was linked to the virus, it supported conclusions reached by other research.

“These findings also corroborate the hypothesis that the virus emerged naturally in southern China and was potentially already circulating at the time of the Wuhan cluster,” they said.

AFP

Wuhan To Test Entire Population After New Cases Of Virus Emerge

FILE PHOTO: A community volunteer informs residents to get vegetables with a loudspeaker in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on March 13, 2020. STR / AFP

 

Wuhan plans to conduct coronavirus tests on the Chinese city’s entire population after new cases emerged for the first time in weeks in the cradle of the global pandemic, state media reported Tuesday.

Officials have been ordered to submit by noon on Tuesday plans to administer nucleic acid tests on all residents in the city of 11 million people, according to an official notice carried by news outlets.

“Each district should make plans and arrangements to conduct nucleic acid tests on the entire population in its jurisdiction within a 10-day time limit,” the notice said, although it was unclear when testing would begin.

READ ALSO: Our COVID-19 Remedy Scorned Because It’s From Africa – Madagascar President

The plan come after Wuhan reported the first cluster of new COVID-19 infections since the city re-opened after a 76-day lockdown on April 8.

Six new cases were reported on Sunday and Monday from a residential compound in Dongxihu District.

But an official from the Dongxihu District epidemic prevention and control commanding office told AFP that they have “not yet received news about this notice”.

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state broadcaster CCTV it was “not necessary” for every person in Wuhan to be tested.

“Neighbourhoods without any cases don’t need to screen every person,” Wu said, while large-scale screening should focus on “key jobs” and other criteria.

China has largely brought the virus under control, but it has been on edge about being hit by a second wave as it has lifted lockdowns and restrictions across the country.

Virus clusters have appeared recent weeks in the northeastern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang, which border Russia.

With the virus taking hold in other nations, China has barred most foreigners from entering the country.

Wuhan has reported 3,869 deaths since the novel coronavirus first emerged there in December, accounting for most fatalities in China. Scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans at a market that sold wildlife in the city.

AFP

Trump Says Evidence Ties COVID-19 To Wuhan Lab, Threatens Tariffs

FUS President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference on COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, March 13, 2020. Trump is declaring coronavirus a national emergency. SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump on Thursday threatened new tariffs against Beijing after claiming there is evidence linking the coronavirus to a lab in China’s ground-zero city of Wuhan.

Asked if he had seen anything giving him a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of the outbreak, Trump replied, “Yes, I have.”

The Republican is increasingly making complaints over Beijing’s handling of the pandemic outbreak a major issue for his November reelection campaign.

He told reporters at the White House that US agencies were investigating how the virus first emerged and what China had done to stop it spreading to the rest of the world.

“We’ll be able to get a very powerful definition of what happened,” he said, adding that a report would be made to him “in the not too distant future.”

But even as the issue remains under probe, Trump said he already has suspicions.

“They could have stopped it,” he said, attacking China for not canceling international flights out of the country in time.

Several theories are circulating on how the virus appeared in Wuhan, including that it emerged from a market selling live animals or accidentally from the Wuhan research lab.

The US intelligence community said Thursday it had concluded that the novel coronavirus originated in China but was not man-made or engineered.

Pressed by reporters at the White House for details on what made him so confident about a link to the laboratory, Trump replied: “I cannot tell you that.”

Regardless of where blame lies for the outbreak, Trump is ramping up a war of words with Beijing, claiming again on Thursday that “China doesn’t want to see me reelected.”

Attention is now turning to what Trump will do in terms of threatened retaliation. The new tension comes only months after the US and China settled a trade war which had been roiling world markets.

Until now Trump has been notably vague on what measures he is considering but tariffs, he said, are a possibility.

But asked about reports that he could cancel US debt obligations to China, Trump said he could “do it differently” and act in “probably a little bit more of a forthright manner.”

“I could do the same thing but even for more money, just putting on tariffs,” he said.

 

AFP

The Wuhan Lab At Centre Of The COVID-19 Controversy

An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. Hector RETAMAL / AFP
An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. Hector RETAMAL / AFP

 

Nestled in the hilly outskirts of Wuhan, the city at the heart of the coronavirus crisis, a Chinese high-security biosafety laboratory is now the subject of US claims it may be the cradle of the pandemic.

Chinese scientists have said the virus likely jumped from an animal to humans in a market that sold wildlife in Wuhan, but the existence of the lab has fuelled conspiracy theories that the germ spread from the facility.

The United States has now brought the allegations into the mainstream, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying US officials are doing a “full investigation” into how the virus “got out into the world”.

Here are some key questions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV):

What is it?

The institute is home to the China Centre for Virus Culture Collection, the largest virus bank in Asia which preserves more than 1,500 strains, according to its website.

The complex contains Asia’s first maximum security lab equipped to handle Class 4 pathogens (P4) — dangerous viruses that pose a high risk of person-to-person transmission, such as Ebola.

An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 17, 2020.  Hector RETAMAL / AFP
An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. Hector RETAMAL / AFP

 

The 300-million-yuan ($42 million) lab was completed in 2015, and finally opened in 2018, with the founder of a French bioindustrial firm, Alain Merieux, acting as a consultant in its construction.

The institute also has a P3 laboratory that has been in operation since 2012.

The 3,000-square-metre (32,000-square-foot) P4 lab, located in a square building with a cylindrical annex, lies near a pond at the foot of a forested hill in Wuhan’s remote outskirts.

On a recent visit, AFP saw no sign of activity inside.

A poster outside the complex read, “Strong Prevention and Control, Don’t Panic, Listen to Official Announcements, Believe in Science, Don’t Spread Rumours”.

Is it the source of the coronavirus?

Pompeo said Friday that Chinese authorities themselves, when they started investigating the virus, “considered whether the WIV was, in fact, the place where this came from”.

“We know they’ve not permitted the world’s scientists to go into that laboratory to evaluate what took place there, what’s happening there, what’s happening there even as we speak,” he said in a radio interview.

The Washington Post and Fox News both quoted anonymous sources who voiced concern that the virus may have come — accidentally — from the facility.

US diplomatic cables seen by The Washington Post revealed that officials were especially concerned about inadequate safety standards related to researchers’ handling of SARS-like bat coronaviruses in the high-security lab.

Fox News said the pandemic’s “patient zero” may have been infected by a strain of bat virus being studied at the facility that somehow got into the population in Wuhan.

An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory (C) at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. Hector RETAMAL / AFP
An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory (C) at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. Hector RETAMAL / AFP

 

Various conspiracy theories about the alleged origin of the coronavirus in the lab have flourished online.

The institute declined to comment on Friday, but it released a statement in February dismissing the rumours.

It said it received samples of the then-unknown virus on December 30, determined the viral genome sequence on January 2 and submitted information on the pathogen to the World Health Organization on January 11.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Friday rejected allegations that the lab was responsible for the outbreak.

“A discerning person will understand at a glance that the purpose is to create confusion, divert public attention, and shirk their responsibility,” said Zhao, who himself promoted conspiracy theories the US army may have brought the virus to China.

What do scientists know about the virus?

Scientists believe the virus originated in bats before being passed to humans through an intermediary species — possibly the endangered pangolin, whose scales are illegally trafficked in China for traditional medicine.

But a study by a group of Chinese scientists published in The Lancet in January revealed that the first COVID-19 patient had no connection to Wuhan’s infamous animal market, and neither did 13 of the first 41 confirmed cases.

Institute researcher Shi Zhengli, one of China’s leading experts on bat coronaviruses and the deputy director of the P4 lab, was part of the team that published the first study to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 came from bats.

In an interview with Scientific American, Shi said the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence did not match any of the bat coronaviruses her laboratory had previously collected and studied.

Filippa Lentzos, biosecurity researcher at King’s College London, said while there is currently no proof for the lab accident theory, there is also “no real evidence” that the virus came from the wet market.

This file photo taken on February 23, 2017 shows a worker inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China's Hubei province. JOHANNES EISELE / AFP
This file photo taken on February 23, 2017 shows a worker inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province. JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

 

“For me, the pandemic origin is still an open question,” Lentzos told AFP.

There are some indications “that could point to a potential lab accident from basic scientific research”, she said.

“But all of this needs considerable investigation for anyone to say anything with any certainty on the pandemic origins.”

David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also said there was no evidence about its origin but it is “closely related to a bat virus”.

“There are many theories of how humans could’ve been infected, and I don’t think any of them are able to be substantiated at present.”

 

AFP

Coronavirus: Wuhan’s Death Toll Rises To 3,869

File photo/ AFP

 

China’s coronavirus ground-zero city of Wuhan on Friday admitted missteps in tallying its death toll as it abruptly raised the count by 50 percent following growing world doubts about Chinese transparency.

The United States has led the charge in questioning China’s handling of the pandemic and how much information it has really shared with the international community since the virus emerged late last year.

Authorities in Wuhan initially tried to cover up the outbreak, punishing doctors who had raised the alarm online in December, and there have been questions about the government’s recording of infections as it repeatedly changed its counting criteria at the peak of the outbreak.

READ ALSO: Sweden Targets 100,000 Coronavirus Tests Weekly

Wuhan’s epidemic control headquarters said in a social media posting on Friday that it had added 1,290 deaths to the tally in the city, which has suffered the vast majority of China’s fatalities from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

That brings the total number of deaths in the city to 3,869. But the city government only added 325 cases, raising the city’s total number of infections to 50,333.

The change also pushes the nationwide death toll up by nearly 39 percent to 4,632, based on official national data released earlier on Friday.

The official toll in the country of 1.4 billion people, however, remains well below the number of fatalities in much smaller countries such as Italy and Spain.

China has come under increasing pressure over the coronavirus pandemic from Western powers, with Washington raising doubts about Chinese transparency and probing whether the virus actually originated in a Wuhan laboratory.

Chinese scientists have said the virus emerged from a Wuhan food market whose merchandise reportedly included exotic wild animals sold for human consumption.

“We’ll have to ask the hard questions about how it came about and how it couldn’t have been stopped earlier,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Thursday.

French President Emmanuel Macron told the Financial Times it would be “naive” to think China had handled the pandemic well, adding: “There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian acknowledged that the virus’s rapid spread had contributed to undercounting, but added “there has never been any concealment, and we’ll never allow any concealment.”

– Data flip-flops –
State-run nationalistic tabloid Global Times defended the revision in an editorial, saying it was a “responsible correction” based on “facts” and that some in the West were “hyping” speculation.

“It is hoped the veracity of the data can put all controversy surrounding it to rest,” it said.

Joseph Kam, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said local authorities may have been given a political task to accomplish a certain target in their reporting of deaths and confirmed cases.

“Given the naivety of these numbers, it seems very likely that this timing is to try to ameliorate foreign anger and distrust amidst the high infection and fatality rates we’ve seen,” Kam told AFP.

Wuhan cited several reasons for the missed cases, including that the city’s medical staff were overwhelmed in the early days as infections climbed, leading to “late reporting, omissions or mis-reporting”.

It also cited insufficient testing and treatment facilities, and said some patients died at home and thus their deaths were not properly reported.

Health authorities in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, have previously flip-flopped on their figures.

Officials abruptly added nearly 15,000 cases to their count in mid-February after they started counting patients who were diagnosed through lung imaging, in addition to those who undergo lab tests.

Later, the National Health Commission removed 108 deaths from the toll after discovering that some fatalities were counted twice in Hubei.

Authorities changed their methodology again in late February as they stopped adding cases through lung imaging.

More recently, China started counting asymptomatic cases following public concern over people who have tested positive but are not showing symptoms.

Zhang, a 52-year-old Wuhan man who has sought answers from Wuhan’s government after his elderly father died from the virus following unrelated surgery in a hospital, said the revision was an “improvement”.

“I knew many infected patients died at home and didn’t have a chance to get the COVID-19 test, so they were not counted in the death toll” said Zhang, who declined to give his full name over fears of retaliation.

“The number revision shows the local government can take into account the problems brought up by the relatives of the deceased, and this can bring some solace to grieving families,” he said.

COVID-19: Wuhan Partially Reopens After Months Of Lockdown

People wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus walk to a train, one of the stops being Wuhan, at a station in Shanghai on March 28, 2020.
People wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus walk to a train, one of the stops being Wuhan, at a station in Shanghai on March 28, 2020.

 

Trains packed with thousands of passengers arrived in Wuhan Saturday as the Chinese city that was Ground Zero for the global coronavirus pandemic partly reopened after months in lockdown.

Returnees, some wearing two face masks, latex gloves and protective suits, were greeted at the railway station by staff in similar anti-virus gear — a grim reminder that while the city was emerging from isolation, it was still far from normal.

“As the train neared Wuhan, my child and I were both very excited,” a 36-year-old woman told AFP. She and her daughter had been away from her husband for nearly 10 weeks.

“It felt like the train was moving faster than before, and my daughter said the driver must know we really want to go home.

“She rushed towards her father, and watching them from behind I couldn’t help but cry,” she added.

Wuhan, where the contagion was first detected late last year, was placed under lockdown in January, with residents forbidden to leave, roadblocks ring-fencing the city’s outskirts and drastic restrictions on daily life.

With the outbreak deemed under control, rules have been eased to allow people to enter the city and many trains had been fully booked days in advance.

Restrictions on residents heading out of Wuhan will not be lifted until April 8 when the airport will also reopen for domestic flights.

Travellers were allowed to leave the train station on Saturday after showing a green code on a mobile app to prove they are healthy.

Those who had been overseas were herded to reception desks to be tested for the virus as China battles to control infections brought from abroad.

A woman told AFP she was finally able to return to Wuhan after a cancelled flight two months ago left her stranded in the southern city of Guangzhou.

Elsewhere in China long lines of travellers queued up at train stations to board high-speed services back to the city.

Passengers in Shanghai had their temperatures checked by staff in goggles and masks after boarding.

Wuhan is the last area of Hubei province to see overland travel restrictions lifted, though some highways leading into the city had already reopened during the week.

“It almost feels like returning to an alien land, because I haven’t been back for more than two months,” Gao Xuesong, a worker in Wuhan’s auto industry, told AFP.

Zero cases, not zero risk

Wuhan has paid a heavy price for the outbreak, with more than 50,000 people infected and more COVID-19 deaths than any other city in China — with three more reported Saturday.

More than 2,500 people are still hospitalised with the disease, including nearly 900 “severe” cases.

Wuhan initially struggled to contain the outbreak, but numbers have fallen dramatically in recent weeks.

Official figures show there have been fewer than 20 new cases across the province in the past fortnight.

Life in the city is slowly returning to normal. Most of the subway network restarted on Saturday, while some shopping centres will open their doors next week.

Banks have reopened and bus services resumed but residents have been warned against unnecessary travel, especially those over 65.

A study this week found the lockdown in Wuhan succeeded in stopping the fast-spreading virus in its tracks — but cautioned against opening up the city too soon.

Communities were still blocked off Saturday, with streets mostly quiet.

“The sound of my suitcase wheels rolling seemed exceptionally loud,” one Weibo user wrote after returning to the city.

A tattered sign dated January 23 — the day Wuhan ground to a halt — hung on one shopfront, announcing the closure of all branches for a week.

More than two months later it was still shuttered.

Liu Dongru, of the Hubei Health Commission, warned Friday that although parts of Wuhan had been reclassified as “low-risk” areas, work to control the virus needed to continue.

“Zero reported cases does not equal zero risk,” he said.

 

AFP

South Africans Returned From Coronavirus-Hit Wuhan

Workers wearing protective suit approach a South African Airways Airbus A340-600 plane on March 14, 2020 as it arrives in Polokwane, in Limpopo province, carrying South African citizens who have been repatriated from Wuhan, China. GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP

 

South Africa repatriated dozens of its citizens from China on Saturday over the coronavirus, the health ministry said, the first such move by a sub-Saharan country.

The 146 South Africans were working and studying in Wuhan city, which was placed under lockdown for around two months after the novel virus was first detected in December.

READ ALSO: Left Behind But Not Broken – A Nigerian In Wuhan

They landed at Polokwane International Airport, in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province, where they will be quarantined in a remote resort for 21 days.

Passengers step into a bus on March 14, 2020 in Polokwane, in Limpopo province after disembarking from a South African Airways Airbus A340-600 plane carrying South African citizens who have been repatriated from Wuhan, China.  AFP

 

“Flight LMG 755 from Wuhan city has landed with the South African citizens,” said health ministry spokesman Popo Maja said.

“There are 146 South Africans on that flight, excluding the crew.”

The returnees will only be released after they get a clean bill of health at the end of the mandatory quarantine.

Government officials have assured that none of the group are infected by the virus and that the quarantine measures are only a precaution.

 

The entire screening, airlifting, quarantine operation is being led by the military.

Limpopo residents have criticised the government, claiming the quarantine site is endangering people living around the area.

South Africa has found 24 positive cases of coronavirus infections so far — the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.

No deaths have been recorded so far, and there have not yet been any restrictions on travel or public gatherings.

The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 130,000 people worldwide and killed around 5,000.

AFP

Wuhan Reports Lowest New Cases As China Contains Covid-19

A community volunteer informs residents to get vegetables with a loudspeaker in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province on March 13, 2020. STR / AFP
A community volunteer informs residents to get vegetables with a loudspeaker in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on March 13, 2020. STR / AFP

 

China reported 11 new infections of the coronavirus on Saturday, and for the first time since the start of the epidemic the majority of them were imported cases from overseas. 

The National Health Commission said there were four more people infected in Hubei’s capital Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December.

The daily tally is the lowest for Wuhan since China started reporting figures in January.

The other seven new infections — four in Shanghai, two in Gansu province and one in Beijing — were of people arriving from overseas, fuelling fears that China’s strict containment measures may be undone by people coming in from hotspots in other countries.

Their nationality was not specified. There have now been 95 imported cases.

Another 13 people died, bringing the national toll from the disease in mainland China to 3,189. Nearly 81,000 people have now been infected.

 

AFP

China’s President Xi Pays First Visit To Wuhan

Passengers wearing face masks wait for their train at Changsha railway station in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province on March 10, 2020. Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Wuhan on March 10 for his first visit to the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic since the crisis erupted in January -- a major sign that officials believe the outbreak is under control. Noel Celis  AFP
Passengers wearing face masks wait for their train at Changsha railway station in Changsha, China’s central Hunan province on March 10, 2020. – Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Wuhan on March 10 for his first visit to the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic since the crisis erupted in January — a major sign that officials believe the outbreak is under control. (Photo by Noel Celis / AFP)

 

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Wuhan Tuesday for the first time since the city emerged as the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic in January — a major sign that officials believe the outbreak is under control.

Xi’s visit came as unprecedented quarantine measures that have sealed off Wuhan and the rest of central Hubei province since late January appear to have paid off, with new infections dropping dramatically in recent weeks.

China’s progress stands in stark contrast with the growing global crisis, with cases now growing at a faster pace abroad, and Italy enacting its own nationwide lockdown.

State media images showed Xi, who arrived by plane in Hubei’s capital, wearing a mask as he spoke via video-link to frontline medical workers and patients who are at one of the field hospitals set up in the city.

He then went to a residential community in Wuhan to speak with people quarantined and frontline community workers, state media said.

China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong is usually a daily fixture in state media but has stayed out of the spotlight for much of the crisis and assigned Premier Li Keqiang to oversee the response to the epidemic.

Li and a vice premier have already visited the virus-stricken city of Wuhan.

But as the number of new cases has fallen in recent weeks, state media has played up Xi’s role in the fight against the outbreak, releasing a speech last month in which he said he had been giving instructions since early January.

Hua Po, an independent Beijing-based political analyst, told AFP the trip’s timing indicated an “interim victory” for China.

“His visit is to signal that the outbreak has been effectively curbed, and is an attempt to quieten external criticism of him not going to the frontlines,” said Hao.

Authorities have faced rare and fierce criticism online over their handling of the virus, with local officials coming under particular scrutiny for punishing whistleblowers in an apparent attempt to cover up the outbreak in early January.

“During the worst of the outbreak, Xi avoided the epicentre because he did not want to be blamed, but when the situation gets better, he shows up in order to receive praise,” said Bruce Lui, a senior lecturer in journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University.

– Global cases soar –
The death of doctor Li Wenliang, who died from the COVID-19 illness in February, sparked a wave of grief and anger online. He was among a group of people who had raised the alarm as early as December.

A visit by vice premier Sun Chunlan to a Wuhan residential community last week was met with angry public heckling as people reportedly complained that she was being shown a “fake” delivery of food — showing how easily state propaganda efforts could backfire.

The virus is believed to have emerged in December at a market that sold wild animals in Wuhan before ballooning into a national and then a global epidemic.

More than 4,000 people have died and over 110,000 have been infected worldwide, with the majority in China.

But China reported only 17 new cases in Wuhan on Tuesday, the lowest figure since it started publishing data on January 21, and two elsewhere that were imported from abroad.

“Xi doesn’t want to be associated with the disaster, but with the recovery,” said Adam Ni, a researcher at the China Policy Centre in Canberra.

“China has turned the corner now with COVID-19, and the party now wants to craft the most positive narrative despite early missteps.”

Hua, the Chinese analyst, said the main reason for Xi’s visit is because the outbreak has put tremendous pressure on the world’s second-largest economy and needs to get back to work.

“Xi wants to uplift people, and his visit suggests a gradual return to normal life and work,” Hua said.

With 56 million locked down in Hubei, authorities are now considering the possibility of lifting travel restrictions in low-risk areas to prepare for resuming work and manufacturing, state media reported on Tuesday.

 

 

-AFP

Left Behind But Not Broken – A Nigerian In Wuhan

Ayodeji Idowu has lived in Wuhan, China for a decade.

 

Ayodeji Idowu was already thinking of returning to Nigeria with his wife and two kids when the coronavirus clutched at Wuhan like a vise-grip.

“It was the Spring Festival holiday (China’s biggest festival) and I was supposed to travel the following week,” Idowu says. But his plans had to be cancelled as the Chinese government started to take measures to contain the deadly virus, which has now killed more than 2,000 people across the world. By late January, Wuhan, a city of 11 million, was essentially put on lockdown.

“For food, initially we used to be able to buy things that we wanted at big malls such as Walmart,” Idowu says. “But as the case became more and more severe, with the number of infection cases skyrocketing, they restricted the movement of people to one person per family for three to four days. So when you want to go out, they tick, like a register, to show that you are the only person who has gone out from your family in the last four days.

“Then it became more severe and even Walmart was not allowed to entertain individual customers. We were not allowed to leave our residencies. For example, I have not been able to step out of my estate’s gate since the newer restrictions came into being about two weeks ago. What we then do is to use Wechat groups; and then we have coordinators on the group who collect our orders. Whatever it is that you want to buy, you post it in the group and it would be delivered the next day. 

In the video above, Mrs Idowu narrates how the family manages to get food and other needed items.

 

“To receive your order, you come to the gate, stand about ten metres away, have your temperature checked, and then they hand over your items and you return to your apartment.”

So far, the arrangement has worked enough to keep the Idowus alive and well. But the isolation is already taking its toll. 

“My wife is . . . quite worried because of getting food for our children,” Idowu, who completed his doctorate studies in 2018, says. “Since the new restrictions, we have not been able to get them the kind of food that they normally eat. Now we are forced to take whatever is available in the group purchase, which is basically catering to Chinese tastes, not foreigners’.”

A man walks on an empty street in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on February 29, 2020. Wuhan’s 11 million residents have been under effective quarantine since January 23 as Chinese authorities race to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. STR / AFP

Bring Us Back

On February 18, the Nigerian Students Association in Wuhan released a statement seeking to “dispel the notion” that Nigerians in China didn’t want to return home in the wake of the coronavirus’ spread. “We are in constant fear because an uncertainty looms about the general situation of things,” the group said.

Since the outbreak started, countries such as Australia, the United States, India and others, have evacuated their citizens from China. The Student group was asking the same of its government. 

Staff members deliver packaged meat to residents in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on February 28, 2020. STR / AFP

 

Days before the statement went public, members of the House of Representatives had flatly rejected the idea of evacuation. According to the lawmakers, China has better facilities to handle the situation than Nigeria.

But it seemed the Nigerians in China still held out hope. Many spoke to journalists, reiterating their wish to be ferried back home. 

“As each day passes, the chances of evacuation slip by,” one Nigerian student told American news media, CNN. “It’s the total lack of support and sense of abandonment by your country.”

Reacting to the cries of abandonment, Minister of State for Health, Olorunnibe Mamora, said the government was aware of the situation but didn’t want to make decisions that could “create panic.”

“The Chinese ambassador here in Nigeria is constantly in touch with us at the Ministry of Health,” Mamora said at an ECOWAS meeting in Bamako. “We are also in touch with Nigeria ambassador in China. One of the reasons he is representing Nigeria in China is to monitor the health of our citizens in China.

Minister Olorunnibe Mamora (R) has been heavily involved in Nigeria’s preparedness for COVID-19. SODIQ ADELAKUN/CHANNELS TV

 

“If the need arises to evacuate, we will do that; but we don’t want a situation where we will create panic. This is no time for fear of stigmatisation. This is the time for science and research. It is not only Nigerians that are in self-isolation in China but even the Chinese citizens. Anyone leaving China now will be tested and if found with the virus, you will not be allowed to leave in order not to spread the virus.”

After the lawmakers rejected the motion, the Nigerian ambassador to China, made a personal donation of 20,000 RMB to Nigerians in Wuhan to assist in procuring foodstuffs and medical supplies. Then on February 27, the federal government made a donation of 235,000 RMB.

The money “comes to about $500 per person for 66 people,” Idowu notes. Since they received the money, “I have noticed some form of brightness in the group (chats) and good words for the country.  It was unlike the sadistic nature of comments that we used to receive earlier. But if the situation continues to linger, things might go back to the way it used to be. Although they’ve received the money, they still want to be evacuated.”

Keeping The Faith

“To some extent, I can say I am disappointed,” Idowu says of the federal government’s handling of its citizens’ fates in Wuhan. “But I also have some understanding of what the fears of the government may be. The Minister of State, Mamora, has said their fears were panic and discrimination against those who may be coming back into the country from Wuhan. However, I feel that as a government, they must still take the responsibility to address those concerns – it is not for me to do that. So that’s where my disappointment is coming in from. I understand the challenges, but I expect that they should be able to overcome those challenges.”

Despite the disappointment, Idowu explains that the group’s mood has been generally upbeat.

This photo taken on February 27, 2020 shows a resident wearing a protective suit riding a bicycle in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. China reported 44 more deaths from the novel coronavirus epidemic on February 28 and 327 fresh cases, the lowest daily figure for new infections in more than a month. STR / AFP.

 

“Trust the Nigerian spirit, even in the midst of the disappointment, people would still make fun, try to make jest over it; we try to encourage ourselves. Although we know there are some quite severe cases – one of us is critically ill, something not related to coronavirus at all – and he is desperately in need of medical attention. So someone like that, I cannot claim to be on the same level of desperation for evacuation. Because of the situation, he has not been able to access medical care. There are a few other people like that. I understand there is a pregnant lady, although I have not been able to confirm that myself since I don’t know all the Nigerians who are here. But I understand there is a lady who is pregnant and close to her day of delivery. 

“But the general mood is okay and calm, and people are beginning to accept that maybe the government will not evacuate. And normal Nigerian spirit, you begin to adjust and just try to suppress whatever ill-feeling you have and make life okay for yourself. Some people simply believe that they are on their own.”

Remembering Home

Idowu has lived in Wuhan for ten years. After receiving his PhD, he set up a consulting company in the city and lectures part-time in one of the universities in town.  

“I have the support of my wife and kids,” he says. “When anyone feels down, we have the other person to provide some sort of psychological support. I can imagine if I was alone, like a student living alone, it is very easy to move from boredom to frustration to depression, especially if you are not able to find something to keep yourself in good spirits.”

But Idowu is also thinking about home, about what would happen if a Nigerian city like Lagos is overrun by the coronavirus. (Nigeria confirmed its first case on February 28).

A  soldier checks the body temperature of a visitor to the 68 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital at Yaba in Lagos, on February 28, 2020. Nigeria reported the first new coronavirus case in sub-Saharan Africa on February 28, 2020 and a major global auto show was cancelled in a bid to stop contagion, as the deadly epidemic sent global stock markets and oil prices plunging. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

 

“I can’t believe that Wuhan will suddenly become what it has become today,” Idowu says. “I have lived in Wuhan for ten years. And I know how effective the governance in Wuhan is, so if in a system where they have effective governance and they can be caught unawares, you can imagine how it is going to be for us when sometimes we don’t take things very seriously.

“We know that a lot of Chinese people have died. Families have been torn apart. And even if people are not dying, we cannot go out, the city is not the way it was any longer. Many months after this thing is over, it still won’t be the same. Now we don’t move close to one another. You can imagine living in Lagos and not moving close to people. How do you live in Lagos and not move close to people?”

Coronavirus: FG Gifts Over N12million To Nigerians In Wuhan

Chairman/CEO of NIDCOM, Abike Dabiri

 

The Federal Government has donated the sum of 235,000 RMB (over N12million) to Nigerians in Wuhan, the epidemic center of the coronavirus, China.

This according to a statement by Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) is part of the various interventions of the Federal Government to the welfare of Nigerians in China.

The statement which was signed on Thursday by the Head, Media Relations, NIDCOM, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, said in appreciation of the gift, Nigerians in China sent ‘thank you’ letter to President Muhammadu Buhari.

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The appreciation letter was signed by the acting President of Nigerians In Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) China, Justina Obaoye Ajala and sent to Chairman/CEO of NIDCOM, Abike Dabiri-Erewa.

“On behalf of NIDO China, we will like to appreciate the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM) and the Embassy of Federal Republic of Nigeria in China for the immense support and encouragement during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) which originated in Wuhan, China.

“We want to use this opportunity to appreciate the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the leadership of His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari for the generous financial support of the sum of 235,000 RMB provided for Nigerians in Wuhan.

“We sincerely appreciate you and your team NiDCOM in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in China for the role played in facilitating the financial support,” the statement read in part.

The appreciation letter added that, the timely financial support is crucial and it will make a difference and go a long way in ameliorating the situation of Nigerians in Wuhan.

It will be recalled that various pro-active interventions coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with other Governmental Agencies was lined up to ensure that Nigerians in China, especially those in Wuhan are protected from the dreaded coronavirus disease.

Coronavirus Survivor Recounts Fear, Confusion

This handout picture taken on February 4 and released to AFP on February 21, 2020 by Xiao Yao shows he receiving treatment at a hospital after infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus in Jinzhou in China’s central Hubei province. 
Handout / XIAO YAO / AFP

 

 

Xiao Yao doesn’t know when or where he caught the new coronavirus.

He suspects it happened on his train journey home to celebrate the Lunar New Year in Jingzhou city, in central China’s Hubei province.

The 27-year-old, who works in the southwest city of Chengdu, only realised something was amiss as the clock ticked midnight into the year of the rat on January 25.

“I suddenly began to feel that my body was very warm, and I began to panic,” he told AFP.

Xiao, who was at a friend’s house in Jingzhou at the time, wasn’t sure what to do.

He had heard horror stories about the virus spreading through the country from friends at the epicentre of the outbreak in nearby Wuhan.

“The feeling I got was that you shouldn’t go to the hospital — you will fall ill if you aren’t already ill,” he said.

But he knew he had to get away from his friend’s young child and elderly parents, to protect them.

By then, Wuhan and other parts of Hubei had been placed under a quarantine that blocked millions of people from travelling.

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Unable to return to his parents’ home in a different township, Xiao checked into a nearby hotel, where his long ordeal began.

 

This handout picture was taken on February 3 and released to AFP on February 21, 2020 by Xiao Yao 
Handout / XIAO YAO / AFP

Makeshift Hospital

Xiao spent nearly a week alone at the hotel with only instant noodles to eat because nearby stores were all closed.

He took fever medication and consulted an online doctor, who said he could have an upper respiratory tract infection.

“I was so flustered. I thought about whether to call the police for help from the government,” Xiao said, but decided against it as he wasn’t sure if he had the COVID-19 illness.

At night, he began to believe he was hallucinating a flying object in his room.

One morning, he realised a bat had entered the room — the animal scientists believe was probably the source of the virus that has now killed more than 2,200 people and infected 75,000 across China.

The government eventually shut down the hotel and Xiao had to return to his friend’s house.

By then, he had developed a serious cough.

His friend was also running a temperature, so they decided to head to a makeshift hospital converted from a factory.

There he was treated with an assortment of intravenous drips, antiviral drugs and traditional Chinese medicine.

On February 4, Xiao finally received confirmation of what he had long feared — he was infected with the coronavirus.

Conditions at the makeshift hospital were basic.

Xiao initially had his own room, but got a “roommate” as the hospital became more crowded.

“I didn’t bathe for more than 20 days,” he said.

“I didn’t even have towels.”

“There was a smell of disinfectant on the food that made me nauseous,” he said.

“But then I think about my friends in Wuhan, all of them struggling to get a hospital bed, and I can’t complain anymore,” Xiao said.

‘Mutant’

Xiao became the subject of vicious rumours in his friend’s township.

“That I had mutated, that I had already been cremated, that my friend had invited me deliberately to infect their town, or that my parents worked at the Huanan seafood market — many different versions,” Xiao said, referring to the Wuhan market where the virus is believed to have originated.

“I was under the greatest psychological pressure when I was diagnosed… I felt sorry for my friend.”

Xiao was finally discharged on Wednesday, and transferred to a quarantine location provided by the government.

He plans to donate blood plasma for an experimental treatment using cells from coronavirus survivors.

He also wants to quit his job at a media company in Chengdu and settle down in his home province once the outbreak ends, to be closer to family.

“I no longer want to keep drifting out there,” he said.

AFP