Coronavirus Updates: Xi Tours Beijing After 97 Die in a Day in China

 Coronavirus Updates: Xi Tours Beijing After 97 Die in a Day in China


Xi Jinping, China’s powerful but recently aloof leader, toured several public places in Beijing on Monday afternoon to oversee efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak, according to a flurry of reports in the state media.

Mr. Xi, whose most recent public appearance came during a meeting with Cambodia’s prime minister last week, traveled first to a neighborhood roughly five miles north of his residence near the Forbidden City and toured a local government office.

He later visited a city hospital, where he took part in a video conference with officials and workers at a hospital in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak more than 600 miles to the south.

Mr. Xi, wearing a powder blue surgical mask and a black suit, made no public remarks, at least according to the initial reports of his tour of the city, but state media portrayed the appearances as a demonstration of his central role in directing the response, as well as his empathy for the ordinary people it has affected most.

An additional 65 cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, raising the total number to 135, the ship’s captain told passengers on Monday.

Japan’s health ministry has not publicly confirmed the sharp rise in cases. The ministry has announced new cases almost daily since the quarantine began a week ago, and the increase reported by the captain on Monday was the largest yet.

The outbreak on the ship, the Diamond Princess, which has been docked at the Yokohama port since Monday, is the largest outside China. About 3,700 people, including about 2,600 passengers and more than 1,000 crew members, are quarantined on the ship, with passengers largely confined to their cabins.

Passengers have grown increasingly fearful that the quarantine is putting them in jeopardy. The Japanese authorities have tested a few hundred people for the coronavirus who were believed to be at particular risk, but as the number of cases has risen, some passengers have pressed for everyone on board to be screened.

For days, Japanese officials have said they do not have the capacity to test all 3,700 people on board. But on Sunday, the health minister, Katsunobu Kato, said his ministry needed to consider whether it could do so, while noting the challenges of carrying out such a large screening.

Ninety-seven people died from the coronavirus on Sunday, a new daily record since the new coronavirus was first detected in December, as the death toll rose to 908, China’s National Health Commission said on Monday.

That new total surpasses the toll from the SARS epidemic of 2002-3, according to official data.

The number of confirmed infections in the country rose to 40,171 and 3,062 new cases were recorded in the preceding 24 hours, most of them in Hubei Province, the heart of the outbreak. A United States citizen died from the coronavirus in Wuhan, the provincial capital, American officials said on Saturday.

The SARS epidemic, which also began in China, killed 774 people worldwide. There have been only two confirmed deaths from the new coronavirus outside mainland China: one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

Many doctors believe that deaths and infections from the current epidemic are undercounted in China because testing facilities are under severe strain.

But for the tenth day in a row, the number of people recovering in the central province of Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, exceeded the number of deaths, raising hopes that the epidemic could be less fatal than previously feared.

  • Updated Feb. 5, 2020

    • How is the United States being affected?
      There have been at least a dozen cases. American citizens and permanent residents who fly to the United States from China are now subject to a two-week quarantine.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      Several countries, including the United States, have discouraged travel to China, and several airlines have canceled flights. Many travelers have been left in limbo while looking to change or cancel bookings.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands is the most important thing you can do.

Official data showed there were 356 people who recovered in the province on Sunday.

The rate of infection, however, has continued to soar, signaling that the worst of the outbreak is still to come.

The cure rate in Hubei rose to 6.1 percent on Monday, compared with the 1.7 percent on January 27. Officials suggested that could mean experimental medical treatments were working.

Some factories and offices across China resumed work on Monday, the end of an extended Lunar New Year holiday intended to slow the spread of the virus.

The return to business occurred slowly as many workers were reluctant to return to large cities from their hometowns, and as managers tried to respond to a slew of new health regulations issued by local governments across the country.

The new rules vary somewhat from city to city but have some common denominators. In big manufacturing centers like Shenzhen, Suzhou and Nanjing, companies are required to learn the travel history of every employee.

Companies were told to bar entry to anyone who had visited in the past two weeks areas with large outbreaks of the virus, particularly Hubei province but with some cities also prohibiting the return to work of anyone who had been to Wenzhou, a city in Zhejiang province that has also had numerous cases.

City governments were also requiring companies frequently check their employees’ temperatures and set up hand-washing protocols.

American companies in central China are restarting production as soon as they obtain permission, but are also required to establish elaborate new procedures.

“They want to protect staff, but also nobody wants to get caught offsides when it comes to the labor law or the daily announcements from the government,” said Ker Gibbs, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.

In many large cities, the outbreak has continued to disrupt daily life. Across the country, teeming cities are effectively locked down, schools have been closed for weeks, trains and flights canceled.

The Hong Kong International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, was eerily empty on Sunday. Cathay Pacific, the city’s flag carrier, said last week that it would force employees to take three-week unpaid furloughs.

Parents in the territory and elsewhere across China, including Shanghai and Guangdong, scrambled to find child care after schools announced they would continue to remain closed for the month of February even as many workers were told to return to their jobs on Monday.

In Beijing, the city’s typically teeming subway, had far fewer riders on Monday and train cars were largely empty

An advance team of experts from the World Health Organization was scheduled to arrive in Beijing on Monday evening, nearly two weeks after the organization’s director general met with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and praised the country’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic.

The team will be led by Bruce Aylward, a Canadian physician and epidemiologist who has previously overseen international campaigns to fight Ebola and polio, the organization’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced on Sunday in Geneva.

Since Dr. Tedros’s trip to Beijing in January, the organization has sought to dispatch a team, but until now the Chinese government had balked. The delay raised questions about China’s sensitivity to international assistance in combating the epidemic, though a spokeswoman said it was simply a matter of “sorting out arrangements.”

Dr. Tedros did not announce other members of the team or its exact mission, though it is likely to focus on the government’s efforts to contain the virus and the lessons other countries could learn from it.

The state-controlled People’s Daily reported on Monday that the team would include “international experts in various fields” who would “work with their Chinese counterparts to increase understanding on the epidemic and guide the work of global responses.”

In a series of posts on Twitter, Dr. Tedros expressed concern that countries experiencing a handful of cases with no direct connection to China could yet see a jump in new infections.

“The detection of a small number of cases may indicate more widespread transmission in other countries,” he wrote. “In short, we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

He called on all countries to share information about the coronavirus “in real time” with the organization.

The new coronavirus is capable of spreading through the air, a Chinese official said recently, a disturbing revelation that suggests the strain can be transmitted more easily than previously thought.

Zeng Qun, the deputy head of Shanghai’s Civil Affairs Bureau, said at a news conference on Saturday that aerosol transmission is among the ways the novel coronavirus can be spread. Airborne transmission is particularly dangerous because it can occur even if people are not in proximity.

But a second Chinese official discounted those claims and said aerosol transmission had not been confirmed and needed further study.

Shen Yinzhong, the medical director of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center, told The Paper, a Shanghai newspaper, the coronavirus can spread through the air “in theory,” confirmation requires further research.

The conflicting reports underscore the confusion surrounding the virus. There have been several cases which appear to have occurred without direct contact with an infected person.

The Chinese government and the World Health Organization have said that most infections occurred among people in close physical contact.

The related virus that caused SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, said in 2004 that virus could be spread through the air under some circumstances. An outbreak in Hong Kong occurred, experts said, when the wind carried the virus through the air from an apartment complex in which several people were infected.

The China Development Forum, an annual economic policy conference that China has used to project an image of itself as an economically open country, has been postponed indefinitely.

In past years, members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee and the governor of China’s central bank have used the event to pitch for more foreign investment into the country.

But this year, global companies are instead grappling with the results of having a supply chain deeply embedded in China as the coronavirus spreads across the nation.

On Monday, Nissan of Japan said it would shut down its plant in Kyushu, Japan, for four days beginning later this week, “due to supply shortages of parts from China.” Other carmakers, like Fiat Chrysler in Italy and Hyundai in South Korea, have already warned that a lack of parts from China could force them to curtail production in their home markets.

Even trade shows further afield are taking a hit with companies like Amazon and Sony choosing to stay away from this month’s MWC technology conference in Barcelona, one of the world’s most important mobile technology trade fairs, because of the coronavirus. Nvidia, LG and Ericsson also pulled out of the conference.

More than 100,000 people from more than 200 countries had been expected to attend the event, but some big firms are dropping out. The organizers said new safety measures would be implemented, including prohibiting any visitors from Hubei Province in China from attending. Security officials will also take visitors’ body temperatures and check passports stamps in order to prevent access for anybody who had visited China in the previous 14 days. The event begins Feb. 24.

Britain’s health secretary has declared the coronavirus an “imminent threat” to public health and announced a series of measures to combat the spread of the virus on Monday, the same day that four more cases were confirmed in the country.

The new declaration will allow the health authorities to forcibly quarantine people, and designates one hospital and one conference center as isolation facilities.

The coronavirus has helped push inflation to an eight-year high, the Chinese government said on Monday, adding to Beijing’s problems.

Consumer price inflation rose to 5.4 percent year on year in January, compared to a 4.5 percent rise in December. That signified the highest level since November 2011, according to China’s statistics bureau. The outbreak has disrupted China’s supply chains, making it difficult in many places to get products to market.

While nonfood related prices, including energy, rose slightly, it was food prices that pushed inflation up. The price of pork, which has surged for months, has now more than doubled over the past year after an outbreak of African swine fever led to a shortage of pigs.

The latest inflation figures mark a new challenge for China’s central bank. The People’s Bank of China has opened the spigots to provide money to local governments that are trying to contain a vicious outbreak. Last week it announced it had pumped $175 billion into the financial system.

The government has told banks to extend favorable terms to companies that have been closed by efforts to contain the outbreak, which include means to keep people at home. In many cases, employers have been responsible for employee wages after closing factories or other operations.

But printing money to inject into the economy also helps push prices up, creating a double-edged sword for China’s authorities.

Inflation typically rises slightly during the holiday, when families buy presents and food to feed large family gatherings. Economists say they rose faster than usual and stayed higher for a longer period of time.

Chinese efforts to stop the coronavirus outbreak have hit even those companies that make essential equipment for medical and emergency workers the kind of gear that is in short supply in many parts of the country.

On Feb. 4 officials in the city of Xiantao in Hubei Province, where the outbreak has been most devastating, notified companies making protective clothing and medical masks that they needed to produce the proper paperwork before they could open again. Unless they could prove their products had been cleared for sale within China, the notice said, the factories could not open until Feb. 14.

The notice caused an uproar online. Xiantao is a major industrial hub for what are known as nonwoven products. That includes the suits and gloves used by emergency workers to protect themselves during outbreaks. The area is especially important for making protective masks. The vast majority of its production is exported, according to 2016 government figures.

The notice said local officials made the move to ensure quality standards were upheld and to root out counterfeit gear makers. But officials relented following a public outcry. On Monday, the government said it approved 73 protective product manufacturers to resume their operations, while others are being certified. It was not clear on Monday how many had resumed production.

Reporting and research was contributed by Steven Lee Myers, Russell Goldman, Keith Bradsher, Ben Dooley, Motoko Rich, Sui-Lee Wee, Amber Wang, Alexandra Stevenson, Tiffany May, Megan Specia, Constant Méheut, Amie Tsang, Adam Satariano, Raphael Minder, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Yiwei Wang and Claire Fu.





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