Coronavirus: World reacts as infections and deaths spike

Southern Africa reports first case of suspected coronavirus infection in Botswana, Australia bans travels and US declares public health emergency

China reported a spike in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths as the outbreak showed little signs of slowing, forcing more countries and companies to restrict travel to the mainland.

Australia said it would bar most travellers arriving from China, while the US declared a public health emergency in response to the outbreak.

The Trump administration has ordered that citizens returning from the Hubei province at the centre of the outbreak be quarantined, while foreign nationals who have been in China recently will be denied entry.

China is making plans to stagger post-holiday travel to contain the spread of the virus, as confirmed infections topped 11 000, and as millions of workers are poised to leave their hometowns to return to work in bigger cities.

In a meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang on Friday, leaders also urged an “early resumption of the production of badly needed medical supplies and daily necessities”.

Coronaviruses
Coronaviruses

KEY DEVELOPMENTS

. CHINA SEEKS EU’S HELP ON MEDICAL SUPPLIES: China’s Premier Li had a call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday afternoon, asking the EU to facilitate China’s urgent procurement of medical supplies from its member states through commercial channels, according to a statement on the State Council’s website.

Von der Leyen said the EU was ready to help China to the best of its ability and use all possible resources, and would coordinate relevant member states to facilitate China’s procurement of medical supplies, according to the statement.

. OFFICIALS EXPRESS REGRET: Wuhan Communist Party chief Ma Guoqiang told state television he was regretful of delays that led to a wider outbreak of the virus.

The impact would have been smaller if decisions had been made more quickly, Ma said, adding that the government could have started closing roads out of Wuhan earlier.

He said the National Health Commission was informed after local hospitals discovered in late December that normal antibiotics were not effective on some patients.

Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital in Beijing who was infected by the virus after visiting Wuhan to inspect coronavirus patients, told local media yesterday he had only limited information when he was in the city in late December.

He had told the media on January 10 that the virus was “preventable and controllable”, a comment criticised by many after the epidemic escalated.

He too expressed regret for the comments.

. BOTSWANA REPORTS FIRST CASE: The Botswana government reported its first suspected infection on Friday, saying the case was registered at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. The patient arrived on an Emirates flight from China and is now in isolation at a local clinic, the health ministry said.

. APPLE SHUTTERS STORES: Apple said it would temporarily close all stores as well as offices and contact centres in mainland China until February 9 “out of an abundance of caution and based on the latest advice from leading health experts”. Its online store would remain open. The company had issued a revenue forecast that was wider than usual due to uncertainty surrounding the virus.

. AUSTRALIA BARS ENTRY TO CHINA TRAVELLERS: Australia would deny entry to anyone arriving from mainland China, except for Australian citizens, residents or their family members, as well as air crew, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Sydney yesterday. It also warned against any travel to all of mainland China.

Australia’s largest airline, Qantas Airways, will suspend services to mainland China from February 9, while Cebu Air, the Philippines’ largest budget carrier, said it would start halting all China flights from today. The suspensions will be in place until March 29.

. CENTRAL BANK VOWS TO MAINTAIN AMPLE LIQUIDITY: Banks should not withdraw loans from companies affected by the virus, especially smaller firms, according to a joint statement from China’s financial regulators, including the central bank and the banking and insurance regulatory commission. Lenders should consider rolling over loans for severely affected companies, they said.

. INDONESIA EVACUATES CITIZENS: Indonesia will evacuate 245 Indonesians living in Wuhan and other towns in Hubei province, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said. They have undergone tests and been declared free of coronavirus, she said.

Thailand said yesterday it was monitoring 274 possible coronavirus cases, up from 212 on Friday.

. ABE WARNS OF IMPACT ON JAPAN: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked the health ministry to be prepared to act more responsively to the virus, saying the outbreak “is having a big impact on the overall society and economy”.

. VIETNAM QUARANTINES CHINESE WORKERS: Vietnam reported the sixth confirmed infection in the country, a 25-year-old female hotel receptionist who had had contact with two Chinese men who tested positive for the virus, according to the news website of the health ministry.

Authorities in the south-central province of Quang Ngai ordered industrial parks to place about 300 Chinese workers under a 14-day quarantine and test them for the virus, VnExpress news website reported.

. HUBEI RESIDENTS IN HONG KONG HOTELS: Hong Kong’s government has found 49 people from Hubei after searching about 500 hotels, and will send them to quarantine centres or help them leave the city, according to Sophia Chan, Hong Kong’s secretary for food and health. About 30 of them have either left or plan to depart Hong Kong, she said.

. PERMISSION TO RETURN: China will require those returning to Hubei to get approval from local prevention bureaus first, according to the Hubei government’s official WeChat account.

. SOUTH KOREA REPORTS ANOTHER CASE: South Korea confirmed another case of coronavirus, bringing the total there to 12. The country evacuated 333 citizens from Wuhan in a second charter flight which landed in Seoul yesterday, according to the health ministry. About seven of those on the flight showed symptoms associated with the virus and were sent to hospital, the report said.

. CHINA RELEASES NEW DATA: China said the number of coronavirus cases rose to 11 374. Of those, 1 795 are severe. The country said 259 people have died from the illness. There are 13 confirmed cases in Hong Kong, 10 in Taiwan and seven in Macau.

. SPAIN’S FIRST CASE: Spain confirmed a case of the coronavirus involving a patient in one of the Canary Islands. He was part of a group of five people who was in contact in Germany with a person diagnosed with the virus. Germany reported a sixth infection from an outbreak that began at an auto-parts supplier near Munich. The new case involves a child who caught the virus from his or her father, who worked at the company, Bavarian health authorities said. The German cluster is significant because it’s one of the biggest examples of human-to-human spread outside China.

. CHINA PLANT CLOSURES TO ACCELERATE, IHS SAYS: London–based global information provider IHS Markit expects the crisis to trigger a cascade of auto plant closings in China that could last into mid-March and reduce output by more than 1.7 million cars – a decline of 32%. Expectations were already bleak as the year began, with IHS Markit predicting a 10% drop in first quarter production.

. HOW THE VIRUS IS INFECTING THE GLOBAL ECONOMY: The potential hit in lost global growth could total $160 billion (R2 401 billion), according to Warwick McKibbin, a professor of economics at Australian National University. The effect of this outbreak could be three to four times larger than the blow from severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

. US IMPOSES ENTRY LIMITS: The Trump administration will put a temporary ban on foreign nationals who have visited China in the past 14 days from entering the US and pose a risk of spreading the illness, unless they are immediate relatives of US citizens or permanent residents. The measures take effect today. US citizens who have been in Hubei province during the past two weeks will be subject to the quarantine, said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Citizens returning from elsewhere in China will be subject to screening, and have to self-quarantine for two weeks while being monitored. All US-bound flights coming from China will be routed to one of seven airports in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Honolulu and Los Angeles. More drastic flight restrictions are not being considered.

. US STOCKS SLUMP AND BONDS RALLY: The S&P 500 Index erased its 2020 gain and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 600 points as traders remained on edge over the impact of the disease. A gauge of US equity volatility spiked to an almost four-month high.

. NEW WAVE OF FLU COULD CAUSE PATIENT CONFUSION: A new wave of influenza is picking up in the US, raising the risk that patients who get the seasonal illness may think they have coronavirus, which has almost identical symptoms early on in a patient’s illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 19 million Americans have fallen ill with the flu so far this season, including 180 000 people who ended up in the hospital. About 10 000 Americans have died, including more than 60 children. This US flu season began early. After stalling, it’s picked up with a new strain of H1N1 influenza, according to a government survey of the illness.

. CDC PUTS AMERICANS RETURNED FROM WUHAN IN QUARANTINE: The US government has put about 200 of its citizens repatriated from Wuhan under legal quarantine at March Air Reserve Base in southern California. The group includes state department personnel, family members, children and other Americans. It’s the first time such a policy has been used in the US since the 1960s, when a quarantine order was issued to stop the spread of smallpox. The quarantine was implemented after one person wanted to leave. The state department is working to arrange additional flights for US citizens still in Wuhan, according to an official. Seats would be offered as they become available, an official said.

. DELTA, AMERICAN SUSPEND FLIGHTS TO CHINA: Delta Air Lines and American Airlines will suspend all flights to China, becoming the first US carriers to take such action. Delta flights will cease from February 6 until April 30, while American will halt flights starting today and running until March 27. European carriers including British Airways and Air France had already halted flights. The Air Line Pilots Association secured agreements with United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta to allow pilots to decline to fly to China if they have concerns about travelling there, according to union representatives at both carriers. Late on Thursday, the pilots union at American Airlines sued the carrier in an effort to halt its China flights and called on members to refuse to fly to the Asian country.

. CHINESE OFFICIAL CRITICISES US REACTION: Chinese officials took issue with US comments about the country’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, and promised they would bring the infection under control. “US comments are inconsistent with the facts and inappropriate,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement posted online on Friday. The World Health Organisation (WHO) “called on countries to avoid adopting travel bans. Yet shortly afterwards, the US went in the opposite direction, and started a very bad turn. It is so unkind.”

China’s ambassador to the UN, Chen Xu, said during a press conference in Geneva that the country had been transparent about the disease. “We have conducted our business in an open and transparent manner with the outside world,” he said.

Xu said that China would work with the WHO to bring the disease under control, following a declaration by the WHO that the outbreak was an international emergency. The declaration will “not only coordinate global prevention control measures but enable us to mobilise international resources to respond to the epidemic,” he said. Bloomberg

TRANSNET INTRODUCES STRICT PROTOCOLS AT PORTS

Transnet has implemented additional protocols for all vessels entering SA ports in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the state-owned company said on Friday.

It has instituted “strict health measures” and is working with the department of health and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases to monitor the outbreak, said spokesperson Molatwane Likhethe.

The new measures include that all foreign vessels must receive free pratique (health clearance) by the Port Health Department, and details of the last 10 ports of call are to

No crew will be taken off a vessel without clearance from Port Health, and a thorough sweep of stowaways will be done.

If any stowaways are found, the vessel will have to remain at anchor until the stowaways are cleared, Likhethe said.

A separate list of vessels calling from affected areas are being recorded, and during the warning period, all South African citizens – including marine pilots – are banned from consuming foods and liquids on board vessels from high-risk areas.

If an infection is reported on board a vessel, the vessel will be allowed to dock, but nobody will be allowed on board until Port Health has cleared the vessel.

All waste from vessels from affected areas will be incinerated and not accepted ashore.

Meanwhile, yachts arriving from all areas will need to report to the SA Police Services and Port Health, with the skipper and crew remaining isolated on board until cleared by Port Health.

Key staff will also be equipped with medical masks and gloves when receiving vessels from affected areas and have been briefed on procedure when going on board, according to Transnet.

“The Coronavirus has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation. Transnet is the custodian of ports and terminals in the country and it is responsible for monitoring all vessels,” Likhethe added.

“Additionally, Transnet port health employees have been sensitised to government’s national response plan to diagnose infected persons and refer them to designated sites or hospitals.” – Fin24

Lancet rings alarm over real number

The true number of people infected with the deadly Wuhan coronavirus is more than 75 000, according to a scientific model which claims the official number for those infected is far too low.

On Friday academics at the University of Hong Kong published a paper in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, estimating the rate at which the virus is spreading.

It used official data on the number of infections to calculate what it said was the true extent of the disease – almost 100 times the official figures.

Underpinning the analysis is the idea that the number of international cases is disproportionately high given the number of people who travel from Wuhan to other countries.

The academics used the international figures to reverse-engineer a total for the number of cases among greater Wuhan’s population of around 19 million.

They said that, as of January 25, they estimated that the number of cases was 75 815.

According to CNN, the official total on January 25 for the whole of Hubei province, which includes greater Wuhan, was 761, barely 1% of the total projected by the scientists.

The paper is not the first to suggest that the official figures do not adequately capture the scope of the outbreak. A paper from Imperial College London published on January 17 suggested that the figures were too low by a factor of 35.

As part of their model, the Hong Kong academics predicted that the scale of the virus would double every 6.4 days. By that logic, the number of people in greater Wuhan with the virus as of this Friday would be 151 630.

The official number of cases on January 31 was less than 10 000. The number increased to below 11 500 as of February 1 local time.

The authors of the study said they had taken into account the effect of the dramatic lockdown imposed on Wuhan and surrounding cities last week.

However, they said that its overall effectiveness would be “negligible” given that a critical mass of cases had already been observed in several other cities.

In a meeting on Thursday, the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency.

On Friday, the US government announced a ban on any foreigner entering the country within 14 days of being in mainland China. It said US citizens would be allowed to enter but placed in quarantine. – Business Insider SA



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