Coronavirus Update: China Increasingly Isolated as Countries Scramble to Contain Spread

Young boy wearing a mask.

Chinese officials reported a surge in new cases in the country in the past 24 hours. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

The coronavirus outbreak has killed at least 362 people globally, according to Chinese and World Health Organization (WHO) data. At this writing, Chinese officials reported a surge in new cases where the death toll rose to at least 361 with nearly 3,000 new cases recorded in the country in the past 24 hours, raising the number of confirmed cases within China to 17,205 with all of China’s provinces and territories touched by the outbreak.

While the vast majority of the cases are inside China, over 150 cases have been confirmed in at least 25 other countries. Countries and territories that have confirmed cases: Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, Malaysia, Macau, Russia, France, the United States, South Korea, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Britain, Vietnam, Italy, India, the Philippines, Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Finland, Sweden, and Spain. Cases recorded in Thailand, Taiwan, Germany, Vietnam, Japan, France, and the United States involved patients who had not been to China.

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WHO declares a global health emergency

On January 30, WHO said the fast-spreading coronavirus is a global health emergency — a rare designation that helps the international agency mobilize financial and political support to contain the outbreak.  “Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a previously unknown pathogen that has escalated into an unprecedented outbreak,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters on Thursday. “We must act together now to limit the spread.” The WHO defines a global health emergency, also known as a “public health emergency of international concern,” as an “extraordinary event” that is “serious, unusual or unexpected.”

The World Health Organization declares coronavirus a global health emergency.
The World Health Organization declares coronavirus a global health emergency. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

Wuhan expands its quarantine

In Wuhan, the Chinese city where the epidemic began, the government is extending its quarantine in an effort to halt the coronavirus that has killed at least 224 people in the city. Starting from February 2, the authorities are putting into quarantine people in Wuhan who have close contact with confirmed carriers of the coronavirus and people with pneumonia-like symptoms who may be carriers.

Hospitals in Wuhan, a riverside city in central China, have struggled to cope with crowds of patients who have fevers and may have contracted the coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, and the government has ordered residents not to leave the city and to stay indoors as much as possible. Under the new rules, many may face supervised quarantine away from their families. People who have had close contact with confirmed carriers of the coronavirus “will be sent to centralized isolation and observation points,” according to the new rule.

The rule is likely to apply most often to family members of Wuhan residents with confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus, and some may hesitate to leave their homes for fear of isolation and the uncertainty of government-run facilities. The regulation did not specify where the affected people will be kept for observation. But it warned that people would have no choice.

Up to now, many in Wuhan have been ordered to stay at home under quarantine. “Those who refuse to cooperate will be compelled under the law by assisting public security offices,” the order said. “During isolation, each district will provide free room and board, as well as medical observation and treatment.”

Hospitals in Wuhan have struggled to cope with crowds of patients who have fevers and may have contracted the virus, called 2019-nCoV.
Hospitals in Wuhan have struggled to cope with crowds of patients who have fevers and may have contracted the coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

Growing anger within China

Local and central government officials in China are facing a growing wave of public anger over the handling of the new coronavirus and local officials are bearing the brunt of that frustration. In Hubei, a health official has been shown fumbling basic questions about the number of infections or available hospital beds in her city of Huanggang. She was later sacked.

State media reported that 337 party officials in Hubei had been “punished,” including six county-level officials who had been fired. Citizens blame officials for claiming for weeks that the coronavirus was manageable and ignoring as well as covering up obvious signs that the outbreak was serious.

A doctor in Wuhan, who tried to warn colleagues and friends about the CORONAvirus in December before being silenced by police, said on Saturday that he had been infected. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan central hospital, was one of eight doctors that local police punished for “rumor-mongering” when they attempted to sound the alarm about the virus in December, weeks before officials admitted the seriousness of the outbreak.

Footage of government officials in Wuhan appearing to take face masks intended for health workers battling the highly infectious coronavirus has fuelled a growing wave of anger over how Chinese authorities have handled the outbreak. Images of medical staff making protective equipment out of rubbish bags, sleeping in hospitals, and crying in frustration and exhaustion have dominated Chinese social media over the last two weeks, inspiring an outpouring of sympathy and donations of supplies.

A video posted by Beijing News appeared to show government workers taking some of those donated supplies. A statement from the Wuhan government said that personnel attending a meeting on emergency supplies on Saturday had “received masks and other related protective supplies” from China’s Red Cross, which is overseeing donations. Other photos showed officials wearing specialized N95 respirator masks in a meeting with doctors who wore surgical masks.

A screenshot from Weibo showing officials wearing specialized N95 respirator masks.
A screenshot from Weibo showing officials wearing specialized N95 respirator masks. (Image: Screenshot via Weibo)

Coronavirus claims its first victim outside of China

A 44-year-old man in the Philippines has died of the coronavirus, health officials said on February 2, making him the first known death outside China. The man, a resident of Wuhan, China, died on Saturday after developing what officials called “severe pneumonia.” “This is the first known death of someone with 2019-nCoV outside of China,” the WHO’s office in the Philippines said in a statement, using the technical shorthand for the coronavirus.

Philippines health officials said the man had arrived in the country on January 21 with a 38-year-old woman who remains under observation. “In his last few days, the patient was stable and showed signs of improvement,” said the health secretary, Francisco Duque. “However, the condition of the patient deteriorated within his last 24 hours, resulting in his demise.”

Hours before the death was announced, the Philippines said it was temporarily barring non-Filipino travelers arriving from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau. Mr. Duque said the Philippines was currently observing 23 people who had been isolated in hospitals with possible coronavirus symptoms. “The new developments warrant a more diligent approach in containing the threats of the 2019-nCoV,” he said.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque announcing that a 44-year-old man from Wuhan, where the virus was first reported, died in a hospital in Manila.
Health secretary Francisco Duque announcing that a 44-year-old man from Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first reported, died in a hospital in Manila. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

The list of countries restricting travelers from China grows

New Zealand became the latest country to impose restrictions on travelers from mainland China, saying it would deny entry to visitors departing from or transiting through the mainland for two weeks starting on February 2. Citizens and residents will be allowed entry to New Zealand but will be required to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

The Philippines, the United States, and Australia have expanded travel restrictions, temporarily barring noncitizens who have recently traveled to China.

South Korea and Japan are barring noncitizens who traveled recently to Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak. Taiwan is denying entry to Chinese nationals from Guangdong, a southern coastal province that has also been battered by the coronavirus, and travelers who have recently visited the area.

Vietnam recently barred almost all flights to and from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau until May 1, according to the United States Federal Aviation Administration. But Vietnam then partly eased its ban, allowing flights from Hong Kong and Macau to continue, aviation authorities said.

Indonesia is suspending its visa-free travel for Chinese citizens and barring passengers who have visited mainland China in the past 14 days. Like other countries in Southeast Asia, Indonesia depends heavily on Chinese tourism. On Thursday alone, 10,000 Chinese tourists canceled their trips to Bali, according to one industry association.

Russia, which had temporarily stopped issuing work visas to Chinese citizens, is also halting visa-free entry for Chinese tour groups, the government said. Moscow has also stopped issuing electronic tourist visas to individual Chinese travelers. Russia, which shares a 2,600-mile border with China, reported its first two coronavirus cases on January 31. Both were in Siberia, and both are Chinese nationals who had recently traveled to China.

Saudi Arabia’s state airline and Oman also suspended flights to China on Sunday in reaction to the coronavirus epidemic, according to Reuters.

Chinese abroad become targets of suspicion over coronavirus.
The number of countries imposing travel restrictions on China continues to grow. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

The US declares a public health emergency

The U.S. imposed entry restrictions on foreign nationals and quarantines on Americans returning from the Chinese province at the center of the coronavirus outbreak. U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency on January 31. He said foreign citizens who have traveled anywhere in China within the past 14 days would be denied U.S. entry, while Americans who visited Hubei Province would be quarantined for up to two weeks.

There are eleven confirmed cases in the U.S. the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  said, while almost 200 other people are being checked for possible infection, HHS officials said. The quarantine of 195 Americans who were evacuated earlier this week from Hubei Province is the first in the U.S. ordered by the federal government in roughly 50 years. The Americans will be quarantined at a California military base for 14 days after their departure from China to prevent any spread of the disease, the CDC said.

Taiwan upset about being lumped in with China

Taiwan complained that it was being punished because the WHO  considers it part of China, which has been subject to travel bans as the coronavirus spreads. Italy and Vietnam included Taiwan in flight bans from China, a move that they announced after the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency.

Vietnam backtracked and narrowed its restrictions to most flights from mainland China. But the ban from Italy remains, said Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister. He pointed out that Taiwan had 10 confirmed cases, versus more than 14,000 in mainland China. “The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Taiwan is not higher than in most countries affected,” Mr. Wu said. “Other than China, no other country, no other country has had its flight banned by Italy.”

Italy and Vietnam included Taiwan in banning flights from China, a move that they announced after the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency.
Italy and Vietnam included Taiwan in flight bans from China. (Image: KCS via Wikimedia Commons)

Medical workers in Hong Kong vote to strike

As many as 9,000 medical workers in Hong Kong have pledged to strike this week, a threat that alarms the territory’s officials as they are struggling to contain the coronavirus outbreak. The workers are demanding that Hong Kong close all border checkpoints to visitors from mainland China, saying they represent a threat to healthcare workers in the city. “We believe such actions are our last resort,” the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, a union that formed during the city’s anti-government protest movement, wrote in a statement.

Under the plan, nonessential hospital staff members who belong to the union would not go to work on February 3. Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, appealed to medical workers to reconsider. “At this critical moment, I believe the general public would count on medical personnel to fight against the epidemic together, in the spirit of professionalism,” he wrote in a blog post on Sunday.

Hong Kong confirmed its 14th coronavirus case on February 1. The patient, an 80-year-old man, had traveled for a few hours to mainland China in early January, and later spent several days on a cruise ship in Japan with more than 3,000 passengers and employees. Health officials said it remained unclear where he had developed the disease.

Health care workers in Hong Kong are prepared to strike.
Healthcare workers in Hong Kong are prepared to strike. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

Government officials say that the number of visitors from the mainland and other countries has decreased significantly after they closed several border points and rail stations and cut flight arrivals by half. But several border points remain open, and many medical workers fear that Hong Kong’s well-regarded healthcare system will be overwhelmed. They have also voiced frustrations about patients from mainland China hiding their travel and medical history, potentially endangering other patients.

Coronavirus triggers anti-Chinese sentiment

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, so has rising anti-Chinese sentiment and calls for a full travel ban on Chinese visitors and indignities for Chinese and other Asians. Restaurants in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam have refused to accept Chinese customers. Indonesians marched near a hotel and called on Chinese guests there to leave. French and Australian newspapers face criticism for racist headlines. Chinese and other Asians in Europe, the United States, Asia, and the Pacific complain of racism against people of Chinese origin.

A cartoon about the virus outbreak in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten sparked fury in China.
A cartoon about the coronavirus outbreak in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten sparked fury in China. (Image: via Business Insider)

China has exchanged blows with Denmark in a diplomatic row over an “insulting” satirical cartoon about its deadly coronavirus outbreak. Its Danish embassy has blasted a newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, which published a drawing of the Chinese flag with coronaviruses replacing the five stars, saying it lacked “sympathy and empathy.” An embassy spokesperson said the cartoon was “an insult” that “hurts the feelings of the Chinese people” and that the drawing “crossed the bottom line of civilized society and the ethical boundary of free speech.”

It asked for an apology from both the newspaper and artist Niels Bo Bojesen. Jyllands-Posten‘s chief editor, Jacob Nybroe, said his newspaper “cannot apologize for something we do not think is wrong,” adding: “As far as I can see, there are two different types of cultural understanding here.”

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