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Coronavirus outbreak: senior US official accuses China of lack of transparency




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.

What is the virus causing the illness that started Wuhan?

The virus is officially called Sars-CoV-2 and this causes the disease Covid-19. It is a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.

What other coronaviruses have there been?

New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are other examples – severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. 

What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?

The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, and there have been such transmissions elsewhere. As of 12 February there are now 45,182 confirmed cases and 1,115 deaths. There are cases in 28 other countries outside China, with deaths recorded in one case in Hong Kong, and one case in the Philippines. The number of people to have contracted the virus overall could be far higher, as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK has doubled from four to eight after four more people in Brighton were diagnosed with the infection over the weekend.

There are nine cases of the virus in the UK. Four were located in Brighton, one in London. At Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside 83 people in quarantine were told they would be allowed to leave on Thursday after they all tested negative. Of the 1,750 tests carried out so far in the UK, more than 99% had been negative.

Why is this worse than normal influenza, and how worried are the experts?

We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. The mortality rate is around 2%. However, this is likely to be an overestimate since many more people are likely to have been infected by the virus but not suffered severe enough symptoms to attend hospital, and so have not been counted. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10%.

Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?

Unless you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected with the virus, then you should treat any cough or cold symptoms as normal. The NHS advises that people should call 111 instead of visiting the GP’s surgery as there is a risk they may infect others.

Is this a pandemic and should we panic?

Health experts are starting to say it could become a pandemic, but right now it falls short of what the WHO would consider to be one. A pandemic, in WHO terms, is “the worldwide spread of a disease”. Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in about 25 countries outside China, but by no means in all 195 on the WHO’s list.

There is no need to panic. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern, and says there is a “window of opportunity” to halt the spread of the disease. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact.

Sarah Boseley Health editor and Hannah Devlin 

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.

Michael Smith
(@MikeSmithAFR)

I have been put under Home quarantine for 14 days after returning to Shanghai. For my neighbours, only 1 person per household is allowed out once a day. Some renters are being denied access to their homes. This is a city increasingly in lockdown. #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/UMEmbTa8PN


February 14, 2020

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

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