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
Here’s why we may have to wait 18 months before we have a Covid-19 vaccine – Scroll.in
The World Health Organization said recently that it may be 18 months before a vaccine against the coronavirus is publicly available. Let’s explore why, even with global efforts, it might take this long.
China shared publicly the full RNA sequence of the virus – now known as SARS-CoV-2 rather than COVID-19, which refers to the disease itself – in the first half of January. This kickstarted efforts to develop vaccines around the world, including at the University of Queensland and institutions in the US and Europe.
By late January, the virus was successfully grown outside China for the first time by Melbourne’s Doherty Institute, a critically important step. For the first time, researchers in other countries had access to a live sample of the virus.
Using this sample, researchers at CSIRO’s high-containment facility, the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, in Geelong, could begin to understand the characteristics of the virus, another crucial step in the global effort towards developing a vaccine.
Vaccines have historically taken two to five years to develop. But with a global effort, and learning from past efforts to develop coronavirus vaccines, researchers could potentially develop a vaccine in a much shorter time.
Here’s why we need to work together.
No single institution has the capacity or facilities to develop a vaccine by itself. There are also more stages to the process than many people appreciate. First, we must understand the virus’s characteristics and behaviour in the host humans. To do this, we must first develop an animal model.
Next, we must demonstrate that potential vaccines are safe and can trigger the right parts of the body’s immunity, without causing damage. Then we can begin pre-clinical animal testing of potential vaccines, using the animal model.
Vaccines that successfully pass pre-clinical testing can then be used by other institutions with the capacity to run human trials. Where these will be conducted, and by whom, has yet to be decided. Generally, it is ideal to test such vaccines in the setting of the current outbreak.
Finally, if a vaccine is found to be safe and effective, it will need to pass the necessary regulatory approvals. And a cost-effective way of making the vaccine will also need to be in place before the final vaccine is ready for delivery.
Each of these steps in the vaccine development pipeline faces potential challenges.
The international Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has engaged our team in those first two steps: determining the characteristics of the current virus, then pre-clinical testing of potential vaccines.
While Melbourne’s Doherty Institute and others have been instrumental in isolating the novel coronavirus, the next step for us is growing large amounts of it, so our scientists have enough to work with. This involves culturing the virus in the lab – i.e. encouraging it to grow – under especially secure and sterile conditions.
The next challenge we face is developing and validating the right biological model for the virus. This will be an animal model that gives us clues to how the coronavirus might behave in humans. Our previous work with the severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known as SARS, has given us a good foundation to build on.
SARS is another member of the coronavirus family that spread during 2002-’03. Our scientists developed a biological model for SARS, using ferrets, in work to identify the original host of the virus: bats.
SARS and the new SARS-CoV-2 share about 80-90% of their genetic code. So our experience with SARS means we are optimistic our existing ferret model can be used as a starting point for work on the novel coronavirus.
We will also explore other biological models to provide more robust data and as a contingency.
There’s also the strong possibility that SARS-CoV-2 will continue to mutate. Being an animal virus, it has already likely mutated as it adapted – first to another animal, and then jumping from an animal to humans.
Initially this was without transmission among people, but now it has taken the significant step of sustained human-to-human transmission. As the virus continues to infect people, it is going through something of a stabilisation, which is part of the mutation process.
This mutation process may even vary in different parts of the world, for various reasons.
This includes population density, which influences the number of people infected and how many opportunities the virus has to mutate. Prior exposure to other coronaviruses may also influence the population’s susceptibility to infection, which may result in variant strains emerging, much like seasonal influenza.
Therefore, it’s crucial we continue to work with one of the latest versions of the virus to give a vaccine the greatest chance of being effective. All this work needs to be done under stringent quality and safety conditions, to ensure it meets global legislative requirements, and to ensure staff and the wider community are safe.
Another challenge is manufacturing proteins from the virus needed to develop potential vaccines. These proteins are specially designed to elicit an immune response when administered, allowing a person’s immune system to protect against future infection.
Fortunately, recent advances in understanding viral proteins, their structure and functions, has allowed this work to progress around the world at considerable speed.
Developing a vaccine is a huge task and not something that can happen overnight. But if things go to plan, it will be much faster than we’ve seen before. So many lessons were learned during the SARS outbreak. And the knowledge the global scientific community gained from trying to develop a vaccine against SARS has given us a head-start on developing one for this virus.
This article first appeared on The Conversation.
WHO Official Explains Why Coronavirus Hasn’t Been Called a Pandemic – The Epoch Times
Dr. Michael Ryan, a top World Health Organization (WHO) official, revealed why the organization is not classifying the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic.
“I think we need to be extremely cautious in using the term ‘pandemic.’ We had lots of controversies during the H1N1 situation, around when it was pandemic and when it wasn’t pandemic, and I think we need to be careful,” he said, referring to the swine flu virus.
A pandemic, Ryan suggested, would have to entail “efficient community transmission outside of China,” where COVID-19, or the Novel Coronavirus, is believed to have originated. He is the executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program.
“At the present time, we’re not observing that. And as such, we’re not in a position to have that discussion. What we’re seeing is, again, as we’ve said previously, the majority of cases outside China have a direct link still back to China,” Ryan said in a news conference on Monday.
It’s important for his organization not to create “fear in the world” by labeling the outbreak as a pandemic, according to the official.
“We’ve said that the risk is very high in China, it’s high regionally and it’s high around the world. That is not, ‘the risk is high of a pandemic.’ The risk is high that the disease may spread further, and I think at face value, that is true,” Ryan remarked.
A day earlier, Dr. Michael Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health said the outbreak of COVID-19 is on the brink of becoming a pandemic.
“It certainly is on the verge of that happening reasonably soon unless containment is more successful than it is right now,” Fauci told CBS News, adding that two dozen countries outside of mainland China have approximately 500 cases of the virus.
“Several of them,” he added, “are starting to get to the second and third transmission.” A pandemic officially means that there are several countries with sustained transmission from “person to person to person,” Fauci explained.
The World Health Organization several weeks ago declared the virus a health emergency of international concern.
The United States on Sunday had a total of 15 cases of the virus from California, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, Arizona, and Washington State. However, that number rose on Monday after Americans who were evacuated from a cruise ship held in quarantine arrived in the United States.
Health officials said that 13 evacuees who were removed from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, currently docked off the coast of Japan, were taken to a hospital in Nebraska. Some of them showed signs of COVID-19 while others tested positive, officials said in a press conference on Monday.
The bulk of the cases are in mainland China, centered around Hubei Province and Wuhan, it’s capitol. Chinese regime officials have implemented lockdowns in dozens of cities, affecting hundreds of millions of people while triggering global supply-chain slowdowns. Last week, top White House advisor Larry Kudlow, said he was “disappointed” with how China has handled the outbreak. “The virus is contained in the United States. We don’t know if it’s contained in China,” he said.
Coronavirus 'lab leakage' rumors spreading | Article – Asia Times
A Wuhan lab affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences has sought to dispel rumors that it “made and leaked” the highly infectious pneumonic virus that led to the still-raging global outbreak. While Chinese President Xi Jinping was briefed about the public health threat by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) in early January, the government decided against sounding the alarm because it did not want to “mar the festive vibe” during the Lunar New Year celebrations.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, located in the provincial capital of Hubei, which is the ground zero of the contagion, has been thrust into the media spotlight by the allegation last week that it leaked “bio-hazardous agents.”
Posts circulating on WeChat and Weibo claim that a researcher at the institute was the first to be infected by the novel coronavirus, now called Covid-19 by the World Health Organization.
The female virologist and a graduate from the institute, referred to as “patient zero,” had never visited the city’s shambolic wet market – also known as the “zoo” – where a range of wild animals were sold. The market has been identified by the authorities as the most probable source of the deadly pathogen.
In a statement released on Sunday, the lab stressed that the researcher had left the city in 2015 and was in good health, refusing to release more information about her for privacy reasons.
The institute is said to be the nation’s only Biological Security Level 4-certified lab, the highest level in the hierarchy of biosafety and biocontainment procedures codified by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The Wuhan lab has the equipment and staff to handle the most infectious viruses, including Ebola.
Shi Zhengli, the institute’s lead researcher on bat-related viruses, said on her social media account that she “guaranteed with her own life” that the outbreak had nothing to do with the lab but was a “nemesis for the barbaric habits and lifestyle of some people – like eating wild game including bats.”
Shi’s team said at the end of January, when the acute respiratory disease started to strike down more people in Wuhan and the rest of Hubei, that bats could have been the initial host of the coronavirus and SARS virus. Shi also heads an expert panel advising the Hubei provincial government in the battle against the epidemic.
Richard Ebright, a biology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told the BBC that genomic sequencing of the coronavirus showed no proof that it had been artificially modified, yet he could not rule out the possibility that the unfolding pandemic could be the result of a “lab incident.”
Ebright said the coronavirus was a cousin of one found in bats captured by the institute in caves in the southwestern province of Yunnan in 2003, and that samples had been kept in the Wuhan lab since 2013.
Also, a paper that appeared in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet at the end of last month has lent credibility to speculation about the origins of the virus. The paper quoted seven doctors at Wuhan’s Jinyintan Hospital as saying that the first patient admitted on December 1 had “never been to the wet market,” nor had there been any epidemiological link between the first patient and subsequent infection cases, based on the data from the first 41 patients treated there.
Furthermore, a note from the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology is seen as a tacit admission that some kind of incident may have occurred at the Wuhan lab.
On Saturday, the ministry issued a directive mandating more stringent handling of viruses and bioagents by all labs and research institutes. The document alluded to the slack oversight and management rampant at some facilities, and stressed that protection and decontamination must be beefed up now that more labs across the nation are intensifying their efforts to develop medicines to treat it and a vaccine to prevent it.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Ming Pao daily reported on Monday that the CCDC had sounded the alarm in a report on the emerging SARS-like outbreak submitted to the top leadership in early January. However, curbing the spread was not at the top of the agenda when Xi and other members of the party’s upper echelon sat down for a Politburo meeting on January 7. Citing its source, the broadsheet said top leaders were opposed to any contingency measures “that may mar the festive vibe and make the public panic.”
In a move seen as a bid to highlight Xi’s early involvement in combating the outbreak, state media revealed on Sunday that the president “gave specific instructions” to contain the spread in the January 7 meeting, amid people’s simmering exasperation with the state and local cadres’ tardy response to the public health crisis that has made more than 70,000 sick across the country as of Monday afternoon.
And even though the CCDC alerted Xi early on, its chief, Gao Fu, is still under fire for his public assurances last month that people were not likely to become infected as a result of normal human contact. Calls are being made for Gao, a veterinarian by training, to step down.
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