Thursday, October 01, 2020

China's Xi steps in as deadly virus spreads to four continents

Jan 25. 2020
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By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Mark Schoifet, Blake Schmidt 

Chinese President Xi Jinping stepped in to order faster response to a fast-spreading novel coronavirus, with authorities deploying military doctors and locking down more cities to contain an outbreak that's now on four continents.

Teams from Beijing will be sent to severely-affected areas to push local governments to "comprehensively strengthen front-line prevention and containment," according to a statement released Saturday after a meeting of the Communist Party's top leadership chaired by Xi. Reports have emerged of hospitals at the center of the outbreak struggling to cope with growing numbers of sick people.

Criticism of the government's handling of the crisis on Chinese social media has centered on the initial response by authorities in Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, and Xi has warned that officials who withhold information will be punished. He said a group will be set up to oversee the response to the epidemic, and it will report directly to China's seven most powerful leaders.

President Donald Trump, who is negotiating a trade agreement with China, on Friday praised its efforts to control the outbreak and thanked Xi. The U.S. plans to close its consulate in Wuhan temporarily and evacuate some Americans in a charter flight on Sunday, Dow Jones reported Saturday. Diplomats and medical personnel will also be on the flight, it said, citing a source it didn't identify.

China's National Health Commission said Saturday that there are 1,287 confirmed cases, including 444 new ones, and that 41 people have died. It reported 237 severe cases. New cases were reported in the Asia Pacific region.

The People's Liberation Army sent 450 medical personnel, including those who've had experience in fighting viral pandemics, to Wuhan to help out at local hospitals, according to the Xinhua News Agency. Health centers in Wuhan are struggling to treat hundreds of sick people, with many turned away from hospitals crammed with patients lying in packed corridors, the South China Morning Post reported.

The dramatic rise in the death count in China signals that the virus isn't yet under control despite aggressive steps by authorities there to limit movement for millions of people who live in cities near the center of the outbreak. The restrictions come during the Lunar New Year, the country's biggest celebration during which billions of trips are typically taken for vacation and visiting of family.

While movement from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and nearby areas has been limited, thousands of people left the region for other points before the bans took effect. In the U.S., two cases have been confirmed in people who returned from China. Europe's first cases were identified in France, while Australia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Nepal also reported infections.

Scientists around the globe have been working to understand the virus better, how contagious it is and where it comes from. First detected in Wuhan last month, it has sparked fears that the disease could rival SARS, the pandemic that claimed almost 800 lives 17 years ago.

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Australia reported four confirmed cases in the states of New South Wales and Victoria. Three had traveled to China, while one was a Wuhan man who flew into Melbourne on Jan. 19. The cases in Malaysia were a woman and her two grandchildren - Chinese nationals from Wuhan - who had traveled there from Singapore. They are related to a 66-year-old man and and his son who had tested positive for the virus in Singapore.

Hong Kong raised its response against the coronavirus to the highest "emergency" level and canceled the city's largest marathon which would have involved 70,000 in early February.

In China, a doctor suspected of having the coronavirus died Saturday in Hubei, according to local media. It's not immediately clear whether the 62-year-old specialist was working on the front lines to treat the illness.

Beyond the restricted areas near Wuhan, major closures took place across the country amid the health fears. Public events to mark the new year were canceled. Shanghai Disneyland announced that it was closing indefinitely, and cinema chains canceled movie screenings. 

France's Health Ministry confirmed three cases of the coronavirus late Friday, the first reported infections in Europe. In the U.S., two cases have been reported and health authorities are monitoring more than 60 people for potential infection. U.S. lawmakers said health authorities are expected to confirm a third case, following a closed-door briefing between lawmakers in Washington and federal health officials.

"We are expecting more cases in the U.S. and we are likely going to see some cases among close contacts of travelers and human-to-human transmission," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

The virus is believed to have emerged last month in a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, spreading from infected animals to humans, and police have raided wildlife markets across eastern China. It has an incubation period of about two weeks before infected people start to show symptoms, which resemble a cold or flu, the CDC said.

The CDC said it's working to get tests for the virus out to states so they can more quickly identify cases. Currently, samples have to be sent to the CDC for analysis.

"This situation is rapidly evolving. Information is coming in hour by hour, day by day," Messonnier said.



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