As death toll nears 500, more Chinese cities shut down

Millions more people have been ordered to stay indoors as China battles to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) that authorities said Wednesday has already killed nearly 500 people.

With more than 24,000 cases in China, a growing number of cities have been imposing a range of restrictions in recent days far from central Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, as authorities struggle to contain the virus.

READ: China isolates 13 cities

Global concerns have risen as more countries found cases that were not imported from China and 10 people―including a Filipino seaman--tested positive for the virus on a ship quarantined off the coast of Japan.

Some 56 million people in Hubei have been under virtual lockdown since last week, with its capital Wuhan at the heart of the health emergency.

In Hangzhou, some 175 kilometers southwest of Shanghai, green fences blocked streets near the headquarters of Chinese tech giant Alibaba as a fighter jet circled overhead.

Alibaba, one of the world’s most valuable companies, appeared shut down, while deliverymen moved in and out of the nearby fenced-in residential areas to drop off groceries. Many people were also seen going out.

The firm is inside one of three districts where some 3 million people were told this week that only one person per household would be allowed outside every two days to buy necessities.

“Please don’t go out, don’t go out, don’t go out!” blared a message on a loudspeaker urging people to wear masks, wash their hands regularly and report any people who are from Hubei–a common fear in other parts of the country that people from the province might infect others.

At least three other cities in eastern Zhejiang province–Taizhou, Wenzhou, and parts of Ningbo– have imposed the same measures, affecting some 18 million people.

Similar policies were encouraged by authorities in two cities as far as China’s northeasternmost province, Heilongjiang, and a handful of others along the east coast.

In Henan province, which borders Hubei, a district in the city of Zhumadian decided that only one person could leave each household every five days. Residents there have been offered cash rewards for informing on people from Hubei.

The disease is believed to have emerged in December in a Wuhan market that sold wild animals, and spread rapidly as people traveled for the Lunar New Year holiday in January.

The death toll has steadily increased, rising to 490 in China after Hubei reported 65 more people had died.

Most deaths have been in the province and officials have noted that the death rate, at around 2 percent, is below the mortality rate of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The new coronavirus is from the same family of pathogens as the one that causes SARS, which killed some 800 people in 2002-2003.

The epidemic has prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency, several governments to institute travel restrictions, and airlines to suspend flights to and from China.

United and American Airlines said Wednesday they have added Hong Kong to their China flight suspensions.

On Wednesday, Japan said at least 10 passengers on a cruise ship carrying 3,711 people have the virus. 

Japanese authorities began testing those on board after a former passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the illness.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Tuesday advised Britons to leave China “if they can,” to minimize their risk of exposure to the virus.

But the WHO said Tuesday that dramatic measures taken by China offered a chance to halt transmission.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the great majority of cases are in China.

“That doesn’t mean that it won’t get worse. But for sure we have a window of opportunity to act,” he said.

Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand all reported new infections not imported from China on Tuesday.

Two fatalities have been reported outside the mainland, in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

READ: HK man dies of nCoV, second outside of China

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has closed all but two land crossings with the Chinese mainland.

As countries battle to keep the virus off their shores, the WHO chief accused wealthy countries of falling short on their duties in sharing data.

“Of the 176 cases reported outside China so far, WHO has received complete case report forms for only 38 percent,” he said.

The United States evacuated more than 300 more people on two new flights out of Wuhan, China, the US State Department said Tuesday.

The two flights left Wuhan on Tuesday US time after the passengers were screened, a State Department official said.

The official said that the United States has now brought home more than 500 passengers on three fights. A first flight, with 195 Americans on board, left Wuhan last week and landed in California.

The United States is preparing one or two additional planes to evacuate Americans on Thursday, after which it does not intend further flights, the official said.

The United States has been placing passengers under mandatory quarantine, the first time that the federal government has taken such a major step since the 1960s.

As stated in a travel advisory issued last week, “US citizens currently in China should attempt to depart by commercial means,” the official said.

In a change of course, Brazil will send two planes to evacuate its citizens stranded in Wuhan, China by the deadly new coronavirus outbreak, the government said Tuesday.

President Jair Bolsonaro had said last week that “diplomatic, budgetary and legal obstacles” prevented his government from evacuating the roughly 40 Brazilians stuck in the city at the heart of the outbreak.

Even as the United States, France, Germany, Japan and other countries repatriated their citizens, the far-right leader insisted Brazil would first have to pass a law providing for those involved to be quarantined, among other measures.

But his government has now decided to bring them home, after all: it will dispatch two presidential planes Wednesday to fetch them, the defense and foreign ministers told a news conference.

The evacuees are expected to return Saturday, and will be placed in quarantine for 18 days at a military base about 80 kilometers from Brasilia, said Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva.

As doctors scramble to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus, a potent brew of anti-retroviral and flu drugs has emerged as a possible defence against the disease that has killed hundreds.

But the science is inconclusive on whether they are actually effective, and experts say a specific treatment could take years to develop.

Two weeks ago Chinese doctors confirmed they had been giving anti-HIV drugs to coronavirus patients in Beijing, based on a 2004 study published after the outbreak of SARS that showed “favorable” responses.

Used together, lopinavir and ritonavir decrease the amount of HIV cells in a patient’s blood, stripping back the virus’s ability to reproduce and attack the immune system.

Doctors have also combined the treatment with another anti-flu drug called oseltamivir, hoping the creative cocktail can sap the new coronavirus of its strength.

The United States, meanwhile, is working with a pharmaceutical company to develop a treatment for the 2019 novel coronavirus, using a class of drug that has boosted survival rates among Ebola patients, officials said Tuesday.

The partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and Regeneron will develop monoclonal antibodies to fight the infection, a different line of treatment to the antiretrovirals and flu drugs that have also emerged as possible defenses against the disease. 

READ: Nations take drastic steps to rim spread

READ: Public warned: No cure for n-CoV; only hygiene

Topics: novel coronavirus , virtual lockdown , World Health Organization
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