BEIJING — The number of new cases of the coronavirus in China dropped for a second straight day, health officials said Wednesday in a possible glimmer of hope amid the outbreak that has infected over 45,000 people worldwide and killed more than 1,100.
Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of emergencies for the World Health Organization, said it is “way too early to try to predict the beginning of the end” of the crisis in China. But he said: “The stabilization in cases in the last number of days is very reassuring and it is to a great extent the result of the huge public health operation in China.”
China has locked down an unprecedented 60 million people in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, which has hit hardest in the city of Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.
The country’s National Health Commission said 2,015 new cases were counted on Tuesday, the second straight daily decline and down from nearly 3,900 a week ago. Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the situation is still grim but “we have seen some positive changes.”
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva that the numbers “must be interpreted with extreme caution,” adding: “This outbreak could still go in any direction.” At the same time, he noted that the number of other countries reporting cases — about two dozen — has not changed since Feb. 4.
All but one of the deaths recorded so far have been in China, as have more than 99% of all reported infections in the world.
“In principle at the moment, there’s no evidence out there that this virus is out there causing efficient community transmission in other countries,” Ryan said. “We have a window of opportunity to shut this virus down.”
At the end of a two-day meeting aimed at speeding the development of new tests, drugs and vaccines for the new virus, WHO said scientists had agreed upon a set of global research priorities but warned it could still take considerable time before any licensed products might be available.
In other developments:
Chinese President Xi Jinping promised tax cuts and other aid to industry as the ruling Communist Party tries to limit the mounting damage to the economy.
The country is struggling to restart its economy after the annual Lunar New Year holiday was extended to try to keep people home and contain the virus. Traffic remained light in Beijing, and many people were still working at home.
Companies are facing increasing losses because of the closing of factories, offices, shops and other businesses in the most sweeping anti-disease measures ever imposed.
A large cluster of cases in Tianjin, a port city southeast of Beijing, has been traced to a department store, Chinese state media said. One-third of Tianjin’s 104 confirmed cases are in Baodi district, where the store is situated, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
A salesperson in the store’s home appliance section was the first diagnosed on Jan. 31, Xinhua said, and a series of cases followed. None of those infected had visited Wuhan recently, and with the exception of one married couple, they worked in different sections of the store and did not know one another.
Meanwhile, organizers of the world’s biggest mobile technology fair — the annual Mobile World Congress show, set for Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona, Spain — cancelled the event because of worries about the viral outbreak.
The decision came after dozens of tech companies and wireless carriers dropped out, including Nokia, Vodafone, Ericsson, Nokia, Sony, Amazon, Intel and LG. The extravaganza had been expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors from about 200 countries, including 5,000 to 6,000 from China.
Elsewhere around the world, DBS bank in Singapore cleared its office, telling 300 employees to work from home after it learned that an employee had been infected. The city-state has 50 confirmed cases. And a Formula One race in Shanghai in April was added to the list of cancelled events.
CITIZEN JOURNALIST DISAPPEARS
A citizen journalist reporting on the epidemic in Wuhan has disappeared, activists said, becoming the second to vanish in recent days amid tightening controls on information in China.
Fang Bin, a seller of traditional Chinese clothing, stopped posting videos or responding to calls and messages on Sunday, activists Gao Fei and Hua Yong said, citing Fang’s friends. His phone was turned off Wednesday.
Fang had posted videos of Wuhan’s overcrowded hospitals, including bodies in a van waiting to be taken to a crematorium. The last video he posted was of a piece of paper reading, “All citizens resist, hand power back to the people.”
Another citizen journalist, Chen Qiushi, vanished on Friday. Non-sanctioned reporting on the outbreak by actitivists is challenging the Communist Party’s tightly policed monopoly on information on an unprecedented scale.
CRUISE SHIP WOES
Passengers aboard a cruise ship that has been barred from docking by four governments may finally set foot on land again.
Holland America Line said the MS Westerdam will arrive Thursday morning in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The ship has been turned away by the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and Thailand, though its operator said no cases of the disease have been confirmed among the more than 2,200 passengers and crew.
And in Japan, 39 new cases were confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined at Yokohama, bringing the total to 174 aboard the Diamond Princess.
TWO RUSSIANS FLEE QUARANTINE
Two Russian women who were kept in isolation for possible inflection by the virus say they escaped from Russian hospitals because of unco-operative doctors, poor conditions and fear they would become infected.
Both women were hospitalized after returning from Hainan, a tropical island in China popular with Russian tourists. One said she jumped out of a hospital window to escape her quarantine, while the other broke out by disabling an electronic lock.
Two cases of the virus have been reported in Russia.
NO EVIDENCE YET OF MOTHER-TO-FETUS SPREAD
In a study published Wednesday in the journal Lancet, Chinese scientists reported there is no evidence so far to suggest the virus can be passed from mother to child in the womb.
The study looked at nine women who all had the COVID-19 virus and gave birth via cesarean section in a hospital in Wuhan. Scientists examined samples from the newborns, including the amniotic fluid, cord blood and throat swabs, and they all tested negative for the virus. But the researched acknowledged the study was small.
To date, two cases of the virus have been confirmed in babies, including a newborn diagnosed just 36 hours after birth. It is unknown how the child was infected.
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Elaine Kurtenbach in Singapore, James Heintz in Moscow, Grant Peck in Bangkok, Kelvin Chan and Maria Cheng in London and Joe McDonald, Dake Kang, Yanan Wang and researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.
Read all the AP stories about the coronavirus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak
Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press
B.C.'s new coronavirus case is woman who recently returned from Iran – CTV News
Another person in British Columbia has tested positive for the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, provincial health officials announced Thursday.
The case is a “presumptive positive” and a sample has been sent to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg for confirmation.
Minister of Health Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the case to reporters at the provincial legislature a day earlier than their regularly scheduled update on the virus.
The case is a woman in her 30s who resides in the Fraser Health region, Henry said. The woman recently returned from travel to Iran and has a milder form of the disease, Henry said.
The province’s top doctor said Fraser Health has already begun investigating the woman’s close contacts and placed a number of the people she’s been in close proximity to in isolation.
“We’ll be doing a detailed investigation of her travel, when her symptoms started, and determine whether we need to investigate or notify people who were on the aircraft she returned in,” Henry said.
The new case brings the total number recorded in British Columbia to six. On Wednesday, the province announced that the first person in B.C. to contract the virus had recovered.
Henry said the provincial government still believes the risk to British Columbians from the COVID-19 is low.
“I think this reflects that we have a very robust system for picking up people who may have this virus,” Henry said. “This one, clearly, is a bit unusual in that the travel to Iran is something new.”
Iran recently began reporting cases of the virus, Henry said. She said provincial health officials will be working with Canadian and international health organizations to determine where the woman contracted the virus.
WHO says no time for complacency as China coronavirus cases fall – Reuters
GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) – A continued decline in the number of new cases of coronavirus infections in China is encouraging, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, while warning that infections outside the country could still spread.
FILE PHOTO: Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, attends a news conference on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
“We are encouraged by this trend but this is no time for complacency,” the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a briefing in Geneva.
To date, 25 other countries have reported 1,076 cases to WHO, including five in the latest affected, Iran, he said.
Tedros noted that the total was very low compared with nearly 75,000 inside China, but added: “That may not stay the same for long”.
The mayor of Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city, urged residents to stay indoors after a spike in infections linked to a church congregation.
The latest cases reported by South Korea are from “several distinct clusters”, Oliver Morgan, the WHO’s director of health emergency information and risk assessment, told the briefing.
“So although the number seems quite high, they are mostly linked to known existing outbreaks,” Morgan said.
“That doesn’t signal a particular change in global epidemiology but it does signal that the Korean authorities are following up very closely, very vigorously, on all the new cases and those outbreaks that they have identified.”
Tedros, noting that South Korean authorities have reported a total of 104 confirmed cases, including 22 on Thursday, said: “With measures they can take, which is proportionate to the public health risk they have, I think the number of cases are really manageable.”
He also said that he had contacted 12 leading manufacturers of protective equipment – such as masks, goggles and gowns – to ensure that health workers received supplies first, adding that he had received a “positive signal”.
Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said he had discussed such medical shortages with Tedros. “Indeed we need definitely masks and protection units and also respiratory machines,” Chen told a separate news conference.
A WHO-led international mission now in China – which Chen described as a “joint venture” – was visiting several provinces and a stop in the outbreak’s epicenter, Wuhan, a city in Hubei province, was “under consideration”, he said.
“If the experts visit other provinces without going to Wuhan they couldn’t have the first-hand knowledge. While in the meantime, it is really risky to go to Wuhan because of the spread of the virus and because of the quarantine needed afterwards,” Chen said. “I think the picture will be very much clearer in the days to come.”
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis
Coquitlam grandmother among Tri-City group to be evacuated from coronavirus cruise ship – The Tri-City News
A group of Tri-City residents are among the 250 Canadians aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has spent two weeks under quarantine in Japan following the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Margaret Tong, an 85-year-old Coquitlam resident, is one of the travellers who will be returning to Canada Friday on a government-chartered flight but her trip is still far from over. The plane is expected to land in Cornwall, Ont., where passengers will be taken to a hotel and kept in isolation for another 14 days.
“Thanks for your prayers and good wishes,” Tong said in a WhatsApp message to her son, Brian Tong, Wednesday night. “Passed the Canadian medical screening. Packing to disembark tonight at 9 p.m. Will contact you upon arrival at Cornwall Ontario.”
In an interview with The Tri-City News, Brian Tong said his mom left Vancouver Jan. 18 and was supposed to be home within two weeks. He said information was limited but thankfully his mother had the internet and was able to communicate with him throughout the ordeal.
“The [Japanese] government was very slow in decision making on what to do,” he said, noting his mother was traveling with a group of people from the area, “so it was many days of uncertainty while the head count of the infected kept rising.”
The good news is that Margaret Tong has been tested and does not appear to have been affected by the virus, her son said. Thermometers were handed out on the ship and anyone who registered a temperature of 37.5 C or higher was asked to go to the medical centre, he said.
“She was always below 36.5,” he said.
Despite the upheaval, Brian Tong added that he “wasn’t too worried” about his mother, who is active, works out regularly at Coquitlam’s City Centre Aquatic Complex and has a strong immune system.
“Of the people affected, there have been very few fatalities,” Brian Tong told The Tri-City News, adding, “My mother goes to the gym six times a week.”
His bigger concern is getting his mom her medication, which she was running short of during the quarantine period.
“I told her that the Japanese government is responsible for them and they have to top up whoever needs medication,” he said. “They were able to do that.”
The chartered Canadian flight was expected to take off from Japan at 3:30 a.m local time and land at CFB Trenton at around 1:30 a.m. EST Friday.
There, further screening will be conducted and another two-week quarantine will be imposed. But federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said there is a chance those who test negative for the virus and show no signs of symptoms may be released from quarantine early under the discretion of Canada’s top public-health doctor.
Forty-seven of the 250 Canadians will not be on the flight, after testing positive for the virus. They will continue their treatment in Japan.
Two people have died aboard the ship; a man and a woman, both from Japan and in their 80s, were believed to have been infected before the quarantine began, according to Japanese health officials.
– with files from the Canadian Press
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