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Coronavirus Live Updates: Chinese City of 11 Million Is on Lockdown

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Chinese authorities on Thursday morning closed off Wuhan — a major port city of more than 11 million people and the center of a pneumonia-like virus that has spread halfway around the world — by canceling planes and trains leaving the city, and suspending buses, subways and ferries within it.

In Wuhan, residents said that a sense of fear was growing as the city went into lockdown.

The new virus, which first emerged at the end of December, has killed at least 17 people and sickened more than 570, including in Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and the United States. It has raised the specter of a repeat of the SARS epidemic, which broke out in China in 2002 and 2003 and spread rapidly while officials obscured the seriousness of the crisis. That virus eventually killed more than 800 people worldwide.

Roughly 30,000 people fly out of Wuhan on an average day, according to air traffic data. Many more leave using ground transportation like trains and cars. The city is the hub of industry and commerce in central China, home to the region’s biggest airport and deepwater port.

The sudden restrictions could upend the travel plans of millions of Chinese citizens, who travel in huge numbers during the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on Friday. The government said it would close Wuhan’s airport and train stations to departures, and it urged residents not to leave the city — a major transportation hub — unless they had an urgent reason to do so.

Some residents were directing their anger at the local authorities, accusing them of not doing enough to contain the crisis.

“The government did not fulfill its duty,” Du Hanrong, 56, a retiree, said by telephone. “They just are doing things hastily and carelessly.”

Others said they were going about business as usual, and that people were still going out to shop for the New Year. Still, many residents were taking precautions, such as canceling plans to have dinner with friends and relatives for the holiday.

“We are all quarantining ourselves at home voluntarily now,” said Tony Li, 39. “Cutting off the city is necessary. Wuhan is the center of the epidemic, after all.”

The outbreak is testing Wuhan’s health care system. Several Wuhan residents said on social media websites that they had gone from hospital to hospital, waiting in lines for hours, only to be sent home with medicine and instructions to seek further treatment later if symptoms persisted in a few days.

Doctors told some patients that there was a shortage of hospital beds as well as testing kits, according to posts on Chinese social media sites. According to Chinese news reports, a patient flew to Dalian to seek treatment at hospitals there after he was sent home from a hospital in Wuhan. In Dalian, he tested positive for the coronavirus.

Calls to local hospitals in Wuhan rang unanswered Wednesday.

Reporting was contributed by Amy Qin, Vivian Wang, Russell Goldman, Christopher Buckley, Javier Hernández, Tiffany May and Elaine Yu. Amber Wang, Claire Fu, Elsie Chen and Zoe Mou contributed research.

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PICS | Super rare pink manta ray spotted in the Great Barrier Reef

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The world can be a weird place – especially in the big blue. 

But you probably never thought you would have ever seen a pink manta ray. The rare creature – the only one documented in the world – was recently captured in photos by Kristian Laine off Australia’s Gold Coast near Lady Elliot Island.

WATCH: Incredible! See a premature baby stingray learning to swim 

Its name is just as cool as its pigmentation – Inspector Clouseau – named after the famous fictional detective. The inspector has been spotted a few times before according to ZME Science since its first discovery in 2015.

But why is it pink? Initially scientists thought it was something to do with an infection or diet – like flamingos – but a biopsy in 2016 has ruled that out. 

The current theory is that it might be a genetic mutation, similar to that of albinism. 

While it stands out in the ocean, manta rays are giants of the deep and don’t have too many enemies that they need to hide from.

PICS: Orcas not only hunting SA’s great white, they now have an appetite for Copper Sharks

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Niger stampede kills at least 20 at handout for refugees

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Twenty people, many of them women and children, were trampled to death on Monday in a stampede for food and money for refugees in southeast Niger, sources said.

“We have a provisional toll of 20 dead,” a medical source said. Aid workers confirmed the account and said about 10 people had been injured.

The accident occurred at a culture centre in Diffa, the main town of a region of that name that abuts Nigeria and Chad.

The region has been repeatedly hit by attacks by Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist group since 2015.

It hosts 119 000 Nigerian refugees, 109 000 internally-displaced people, and 30 000 Nigeriens who have come home from Nigeria because of the instability in its northeast, according to UN figures released October.

The aid being distributed had been given by Babagana Umara Zulum, the governor of Borno state in northeast Nigeria, a Nigerian official told AFP.

He had come to the region to visit the camps for refugees and the displaced, and had already left the town when the stampede occurred.

“They were distributing food and money – 5 000 naira ($13.75) per person,” a local resident told AFP. The naira is Nigeria’s national currency.

“Thousands of people, most of them refugees, heard about the handout and left the camps, sometimes travelling up to 100km to get to Diffa,” the source said.

Another resident said: “Even ordinary inhabitants of Diffa rushed there in the hope of getting the handout.”

“Many women trampled their child to death” in the rush, a medical source said.

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Mother accused of strangling baby granted R1 000 bail

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A Durban mother who is accused of strangling what is believed to be a newborn baby, has been granted bail of R1 000 in the Durban Magistrate’s Court.

Simembali Magubane, 24, from Cato Manor was told to return to court on March 24, provincial National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Natasha Kara said on Monday.

Police said on Sunday officers went to a block of flats in Candella Road on Saturday after hearing about an alleged concealment of birth.

Police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele said on arrival officers found the body of a newborn boy in a wrapped blue shirt in a municipal bin.

READ | No arrests after body of missing Klerksdorp toddler found

“The body was [initially] discovered by a member of the community,” said Mbele.

After investigation, police went to a flat and found an umbilical cord in a bucket. Mbele said further investigation revealed that the baby was strangled and dumped in the bin.

Magubane was arrested on a charge of murder.

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No 10 refuses to condemn adviser’s remarks

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Andrew Sabisky

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Labour is calling for Andrew Sabisky to be sacked from his adviser position

Number 10 has refused to condemn past remarks on pregnancies, eugenics and race reportedly made by a new adviser.

Downing Street is under increasing pressure to sack Andrew Sabisky – appointed after the PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings called for “misfits and weirdos” to apply for jobs there.

Labour said the lack of condemnation of the “appalling” remarks was “disgusting”.

Mr Sabisky has been contacted by the BBC for comment.

When asked on Monday, Downing Street would not confirm his appointment or what type of role he may have taken on.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman added: “The prime minister’s views on a range of subjects are well publicised and documented.”

In response, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes tweeted: “Cannot believe No 10 has refused to comment on Andrew Sabisky. I don’t know him from a bar of soap, but don’t think we’d get on… must be no place in government for the views he’s expressed.”

In a comment on a 2014 blog post on Mr Cummings’ website, made by a user called “Andrew Sabisky” that used the same picture as his Twitter page, he suggested that compulsory contraception could be used to stop a “permanent underclass”.

“One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty,” he wrote.

“Vaccination laws give it a precedent, I would argue.”

In a comment on another blog post on a different website in 2014, what appears to be the same user suggested black Americans had a lower average IQ than white Americans.

In a comment on a different blog that same year, a user with his name said: “There are excellent reasons to think the very real racial differences in intelligence are significantly – even mostly – genetic in origin, though the degree is of course a very serious subject of scholarly debate.”

Mr Sabisky also suggested to Schools Week in July 2016 that the benefits of a purported cognitive enhancer, which can prove fatal, are “probably worth a dead kid once a year”.

“Eugenics are about selecting ‘for’ good things,” he said in the same interview. “Intelligence is largely inherited and it correlates with better outcomes: physical health, income, lower mental illness.

And in a Twitter post from 2019, he said: “I am always straight up in saying that women’s sport is more comparable to the Paralympics than it is to men’s.”

‘National embarrassment’

Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery said: “It is disgusting that not only has Number 10 failed to condemn Andrew Sabisky’s appalling comments, but also seems to have endorsed the idea that white people are more intelligent than black people.

“Boris Johnson should have the backbone to make a statement in his own words on why he has made this appointment, whether he stands by it, and his own views on the subject of eugenics.”

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said: “There are really no words to describe Boris Johnson’s appointment as one of his senior advisers a man who is on record as supporting the forced sterilisation of people he considers not worthy.

“He must of course be removed from this position immediately.”

Acting Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey urged the prime minister to “put an end to the offence caused and sack Andrew Sabisky”.

“This Conservative government is a national embarrassment,” he said. “By giving Dominic Cummings such power and then failing to control him, Boris Johnson is revealing who really is in charge.”

And Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the government must “demonstrate some basic but fundamental values”, tweeting: “These are really not acceptable headlines for any government to be generating.”

When asked about the remarks on Sky News, Environment Secretary George Eustice said it was a “matter for Dominic Cummings and Number 10”.

On Sunday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC: “I don’t know the individual but they are particularly not views that I or the government shares in any way, shape or form.”

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Coronavirus Updates: Infected Americans Evacuated from Cruise Ship and Flown to U.S.

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Fourteen Americans who tested positive for the coronavirus were evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan on Monday and flown to the United States, where they will be placed in isolation and receive medical attention.

The passengers were among more than 300 Americans aboard a cruise ship that has been quarantined in Yokohama for more than 10 days. U.S. officials initially said that they would not allow infected people to board the evacuation flights, but they appeared to reverse that decision early Monday.

“During the evacuation process, after passengers had disembarked the ship and initiated transport to the airport, U.S. officials received notice that 14 passengers, who had been tested 2-3 days earlier, had tested positive for COVID-19,” the State Department and Department of Health and Human Services said in a joint statement, referring to the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The two planes chartered to bring the Americans back landed early Monday, one at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., and the other at an Air Force base in San Antonio.

The infected passengers — who officials said were asymptomatic and “fit to fly” — were moved into a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft, where they were to be isolated and monitored.

All the cruise ship passengers, including those who initially tested negative for the virus, will be placed in a 14-day quarantine.

Those who develop symptoms or test positive will be sent to “an appropriate location for continued isolation and care,” the statement added.

With the arrival of the 14 infected passengers from Japan, confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States nearly doubled, to 29.

China signaled on Monday that it would postpone the annual session of its Communist Party-dominated legislature because of the coronavirus epidemic, a symbolic blow to a government that typically runs with regimented discipline.

The annual full meeting of the legislature, called the National People’s Congress, is a major event in China’s political cycle. President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and other leaders were expected to lay out their agenda for the year, issue the annual budget and pass major legislation.

Each March, with clockwork regularity, nearly 3,000 delegates gather in the grandiose Great Hall of the People, next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

But delay is now virtually certain, judging from an announcement from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which oversees the legislature. The announcement said that the committee will consider delaying the congress.

The National People’s Congress is dominated by Communist Party politicians, and it would be extremely unlikely that the proposal would be up for formal approval unless Mr. Xi had agreed it was necessary.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

A postponement would be the first time in recent memory that the annual legislative session has been delayed. Even in 2003, when China was battling severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, the congress went ahead as usual.

The terse wording of the announcement gave no clue when the congress would convene.

Delaying the congress is unlikely to seriously derail Chinese policymaking, which is controlled by a small circle of party leaders.

The coronavirus epidemic has prompted China to reconsider its trade and consumption of wildlife, which has been identified as a probable source of the outbreak.

The practice is driven as much by the desire to flaunt wealth as by a mix of superstition and belief about health benefits from wildlife. Officials drafted legislation to introduce controls and plan to present it at the next preparatory session for the annual National People’s Congress. The details of the proposal are not yet clear, but the goal is to end “the pernicious habit of eating wildlife,” according to a statement released on Monday by the Standing Committee of the congress.

Although the exact origin of the coronavirus is still under investigation, health officials and scientists say it spread outward from a wholesale market in Wuhan where vendors legally sold live animals from crowded stalls in close quarters with meats and vegetables.

The epidemic has inflamed public sentiment that the consumption of animals like reptiles, civet cats and hedgehogs is fundamentally unsafe.

The trafficking of endangered or threatened wildlife is prohibited in China, but Wang Ruihe, an official with the National People’s Congress, said last week that enforcement was lax.

The new coronavirus, like the one that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, has been traced to bats and is believed to have jumped from them to another mammal and then to humans. In the case of SARS, the virus first leapt from bats to civets.

One study has suggested that pangolins, an endangered species whose meat and scales are prized in China, might have been the carrier of the new virus.

Nearly 1,000 passengers and crew members aboard the Westerdam cruise ship in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, were being tested for the coronavirus on Monday after a passenger who had already disembarked tested positive for the virus, officials said.

The cruise ship operator, Holland America Line, had planned to send all passengers home after a difficult voyage during which the ship was turned away by ports in five countries for fear that someone aboard might have the coronavirus.

With the discovery of the infected passenger — an ailing American woman who was screened at an airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — the exodus of passengers has come to a halt.

Mang Sineth, the deputy governor of Preah Sihanouk Province, said the authorities and medical teams have been collecting samples from everyone left aboard the Westerdam to test for the virus. He said he could not estimate how long the testing would take or when the results would be available.

Holland America insisted during the cruise that all 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members were free of the disease. But when 145 passengers from the ship arrived at the airport in Kuala Lumpur and were screened and tested, one passenger was confirmed to have the virus. The passenger, 83, is now hospitalized along with her husband, 85, who is showing symptoms of the disease but has twice tested negative.

Hundreds of other passengers have made it to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital but are now sequestered in hotels, where they are being tested.

Christina Kerby, a former passenger who is now with hundreds of others at a Phnom Penh hotel, said they have been told to stay in their rooms as much as possible, but they have not been barred from going outside or leaving the country.

The number of new coronavirus cases dropped to a three-week low, according to official data released on Monday. Experts said the dip was largely because of the lockdown measures the Chinese government has imposed on several cities to keep the spread of the virus at bay.

On Monday, the government of China reported 2,048 new infections — one-fifth the number of cases from a week ago — and 105 new deaths over the previous 24 hours. The number of new coronavirus cases reported in China had started to level off around Feb. 6, suggesting that the outbreak might be slowing. But last Thursday, officials added more than 14,840 new cases to the tally of the infected in Hubei Province, the center of the outbreak, after they changed the criteria for diagnosing patients.

The trend suggests that the epidemic that once seemed hopelessly out of control a few weeks ago could be contained — at least, for now.

“The measures taken have been extraordinary and we are seeing the effects,” said Raina MacIntyre, the head of biosecurity research at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales.

China has sealed off several cities, threatened quarantine violators with stiff punishments and rounded up sick people in mass quarantine centers in Wuhan.

But public health experts caution that the worst is not over.

Some experts view the figures reported by China with some skepticism. The government has a history of covering up data that makes it look bad and has an incentive to underreport the figures.

Public health experts say the coronavirus is also extremely contagious, more so than the virus that caused the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003, and may be more difficult to curtail.

Organizers of the Tokyo Marathon, citing the confirmation of a coronavirus case in Tokyo, are limiting the race this year to elite runners, including wheelchair elites, the event announced on its website Monday.

A statement posted on the site said that all registered runners could defer their entry to the 2021 event, but that runners who defer would have to pay again and would not receive refunds for this year’s race. About 38,000 participants had signed up for the race scheduled for March 1. Of that number, 245 are elite runners and 30 are elite wheelchair athletes, Reuters reported.

The Hong Kong Marathon, scheduled for Feb. 9, was canceled as coronavirus cases in the semiautonomous Chinese city increased. Hong Kong now has 57 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Japan’s Imperial Household Agency also canceled birthday celebrations for the emperor, an event within the Imperial Palace that normally draws large crowds in Tokyo. Emperor Naruhito turns 60 on Feb. 23. This would be his first birthday since he became emperor.

Three masked robbers appeared at dawn on Monday outside a Hong Kong supermarket. There, they held a deliveryman at knife point and made off with over a $100 worth of one of the most sought after commodities in this city of seven million: toilet paper.

Toilet paper has been sold out across the city for weeks after a run on the product was prompted by rumors that manufacturers in mainland China would cease production or that the border would be sealed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Retailers have dispelled the rumor, saying there is no genuine shortage. But bulk packs of toilet paper are snatched off supermarket shelves almost as soon as they are restocked, and city blocks are crowded with residents lined up at shops just to buy the product.

So short is the supply that lovers exchanged individual rolls on Valentine’s Day as a sort of pragmatic joke. Online, users have offered to barter surgical masks, which actually are in short supply, for a few rolls of toilet paper. And one hoarder was shamed on social media when neighbors spotted an apartment whose windows were crowded by a wall of toilet paper rolls.

The toilet paper stolen in Monday’s heist was later discovered stashed at a hotel, local news outlets reported, but the perpetrators remain at large. The police said two people had been arrested in connection with the heist, but they were looking for others.

Last week, the police arrested a man charged with stealing eight boxes of heavy-duty face masks, known as N-95 masks, from a parked car after smashing its windows.

Travel restrictions and quarantines imposed in response to the coronavirus epidemic in China have produced a severe shortage of workers that has blocked many factories from returning to full production, an American business group said on Monday.

A questionnaire late last week by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai that attracted responses from 109 manufacturers in or near the city in east-central China found that nearly four-fifths of them did not have enough staff to run their production lines at full capacity.

“We’ve got more and more factories getting open, but across the board, everybody is still struggling to find workers,” said Ker Gibbs, the president of the chamber. He cited 14-day quarantines that many cities impose on new arrivals or returnees.

Almost two-fifths of the companies said they had trouble finding enough face masks to meet local requirements that factories provide them to their workers.

Two-thirds of the companies that chose to respond to the questionnaire had already opened operations by the end of last week, while another fifth of the companies were planning to reopen this week.

The questionnaire was sent to 612 members of the chamber, for a response rate of 18 percent.

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, has repeated an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that has spread from small-town China to the right-wing news media in the United States: The new coronavirus originated in a high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan.

In a television interview on Fox News on Sunday, Mr. Cotton suggested that a dearth of information about the origins of the virus raised more questions than answers.

“We don’t know where it originated, and we have to get to the bottom of that,” Mr. Cotton said on the program Sunday Morning Futures. He then raised the possibility that the virus originated in a “biosafety level-4 super laboratory.” Such laboratories are used for research into potentially deadly infectious diseases.

“Now, we don’t have evidence that this disease originated there but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all,” he added.

The Chinese authorities say the outbreak began in a market in Wuhan where wild animals were sold. The city is also home to a biochemical laboratory.

After receiving criticism for lending credence to what has been largely considered a fringe theory, the senator took to Twitter to say he did not necessarily think the virus was an “engineered bioweapon.”

That idea, he said, was just one of several hypotheses that included the possibility that the outbreak was a “deliberate release.”

He also said it was possible that the virus spread naturally, “but almost certainly not from the Wuhan food market.”

Research and reporting was contributed by Russell Goldman, Austin Ramzy, Steven Lee Myers, Claire Fu, Tiffany May, Richard C. Paddock, Sui-Lee Wee, Alexandra Stevenson, Roni Caryn Rabin, Ben Dooley and Keith Bradsher.

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