A senior White House official has called on Beijing to be more transparent over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak as Chinese authorities expanded “wartime” measures to limit its spread.
Casualties from coronavirus reached nearly 1,400, with more than 5,000 new cases reported on Friday, dampening optimism that the virus will soon be contained.
At a meeting of senior leaders in Beijing leading the government’s response to the crisis, officials called for other areas to “adopt quarantine and rescue measures equal to that of Wuhan”, which has been under lockdown for more than two weeks, including centralising and quarantining patients.
The meeting, held on Thursday and chaired by premier Li Keqiang called on Wuhan to “speed up” classifying and quarantining residents suspected or confirmed of contracting the virus.
It came as a top White House official called on Beijing to be more open.
“We are a little disappointed that we haven’t been invited in and we’re a little disappointed in the lack of transparency coming from the Chinese,” Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, told reporters.
Kudlow said President Xi Jinping had assured President Donald Trump that Beijing would accept US help, but “they won’t let us”.
“I don’t know what their motives are. I do know that apparently more and more people are suffering over there,” he said. “Is the Politburo really being honest with us?” he asked, referring to communist China’s top leadership body.
In Huanggang, one of the worst-hit areas outside of Wuhan with more than 2,000 cases and at least 59 deaths, authorities issued an emergency measures for 14 days, “fully sealing” all residential areas and banning vehicles, except for those for emergency, medical or official purposes.
Checkpoints would be set up and public security deployed to enforce the measures. Local district committee are to organise residents’ needed supplies. “All residents must not enter or leave their communities without authorisation,” the notice said.
In Dawu county in central Hubei, home to more than 600,000 people, officials also issued an emergency notice on Thursday afternoon that residential areas and buildings would be sealed and vehicles banned. Those who violate the rules “will be detained, according to wartime regulations”. “In extraordinary times, extraordinary actions are needed,” the notice said.
In Zhangwan district in Shiyan city, authorities instituted similar restrictions and said public security would help enforce the measures. Gucheng county and Yunmeng county also implemented the same measures for a period of 14 days.
While the country tries to slowly return to work in an effort to keep the economy going, many areas remain paralysed by the virus. In Shanghai, residents are facing increasingly stringent quarantine measures. One village has banned all outside cars and residents, a measure also adopted in many residential compounds in Beijing.
Officials said that this year would not see a “peak” in return journeys after the Lunar New Year holiday and that all parts of the country should “continue protection and control measures”. Containing the virus in Wuhan, where the virus emerged in December, is still of “utmost importance” in order to achieve “economic and societal development” this year, officials said.
The number of deaths from coronavirus in China was revised down on Friday to 1380, after a huge spike on Thursday. The National Health Commission removed 108 deaths after discovering “duplicate statistics” in hard-hit central Hubei province, according to its daily update, without providing more details.
Outside China, one person died in Japan from the virus on Thursday night. Japan’s health ministry said that a woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture, west of Tokyo, had died. She had been transferred between hospitals as her condition worsened and she was only confirmed to have had the coronavirus after her death.
Her death brings to three the number of fatalities from the virus outside mainland China. The government said it would step up testing and containment efforts.
Meanwhile, the US state department expressed deep concern about North Korea’s vulnerability to the outbreak. The statement comes as North Korea scrambles to strengthen quarantine and preventive measures.
North Korea has yet to report a case of the new virus, but state media reports have hinted that an uncertain number of people have been quarantined after showing symptoms. Experts say an epidemic in North Korea could be dire because of its chronic lack of medical supplies and poor health care infrastructure.
Passengers on a cruise ship that spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over coronavirus fears started disembarking in Cambodia on Friday.
The MS Westerdam, carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, docked in the Cambodian port town of Sihanoukville on Thursday. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen greeted the passengers with handshakes and bouquets of roses as they stepped off the ship and boarded a waiting bus.
Additional reporting by Pei Wu Lin