Death tolls exceeds 100 as number of infections skyrockets.
The outbreak of a mysterious new virus is rapidly spreading, the Chinese authorities said on Tuesday, as the official account of known cases jumped nearly 60 percent overnight and the death toll exceeded 100 for the first time.
◆ China said on Tuesday that 106 people had died from the coronavirus that is believed to have originated in the central city of Wuhan and which is spreading across the country. The previous death toll on Monday was 81.
◆ The number of confirmed cases increased from 2,835 on Monday to 4,515 on Tuesday, according to the National Health Commission. The youngest confirmed case is a 9-month-old girl in Beijing.
◆ Most of the cases have been confirmed in the central Chinese province of Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, where several cities, including Wuhan, have been placed under a veritable lockdown. Of the total cases, 2,714 are in Hubei.
◆ Thailand has reported 14 cases of infection; Hong Kong has eight; the United States, Taiwan, Australia and Macau have five each; Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia each have reported four; France has three; Canada and Vietnam have two; and Nepal, Cambodia and Germany each have one. There have been no deaths outside China.
Mystery virus strains China’s already broken health care system.
The sudden outbreak is straining China’s already overworked and underfunded health care system.
In major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, many people have to stand in line in the wee hours of the morning to secure appointments with doctors. When they do get an appointment, patients get only a couple of minutes with a doctor. During flu season, residents set up camp overnight with blankets in hospital corridors.
China does not have a functioning primary care system, so most people flock to hospitals. On an ordinary day, doctors are frustrated and exhausted as they see as many as 200 patients.
Those weaknesses are most pronounced in the poorer areas of China — like Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus. Panicked residents of the city are heading to the hospitals if they have any sign of a cold or cough. Videos circulating on Chinese social media show doctors straining to handle the enormous workload and hospital corridors loaded with patients, some of whom appear to be dead.
Despite having dealt with the SARS coronavirus nearly two decades ago, many Chinese hospitals in smaller cities are not fully prepared to deal with a major outbreak like the current virus. Wuhan hospitals have posted messages online urgently appealing for medical equipment. The situation is even more desperate in poorer, rural areas nearby.
Last week, eight hospitals in Hubei Province — where Wuhan is situated and where most of the cases have appeared — put out a call for N95 masks, goggles, surgical masks and surgical gowns. In the absence of proper equipment, some medical workers have resorted to cutting plastic folders to jury-rig goggles.
With medical facilities in short supply, the local government has also pledged to build a new 1,000-bed hospital in 10 days, and vowed that another new 1,300-bed hospital would be ready by the middle of next month. It is taking a page out of the government’s playbook during SARS, when it built a new hospital in Beijing in just a week.
C.D.C. urges travelers to avoid nonessential trips to China.
Health officials in the United States issued new guidance for travelers on Monday, recommending that they avoid all nonessential trips to China.
The warning, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that transportation in and out of Hubei Province, the center of the outbreak, is restricted and that there is “limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas.”
International health officials counseled travelers in China to avoid contact with sick people, animal markets and uncooked meats, and to talk to their health care provider and wash hands frequently.
Reporting was contributed by Chris Buckley, Russell Goldman, Elaine Yu, Raymond Zhong, Austin Ramzy, Sui-Lee Wee, Joseph Goldstein, Jeffrey E. Singer, Peter S. Goodman and Roni Caryn Rabin. Jin Wu, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Amber Wang, Yiwei Wang and Claire Fu contributed research.
Some UK schools have closed over fears pupils and staff members may have been exposed to coronavirus after travelling abroad during the half-term break.
Others have sent pupils and staff home, as the illness continues to spread across Europe.
However, Public Health England (PHE) says it is not advising schools to shut to stem the spread of the virus.
Why are some schools closing their doors?
One academy chain chief executive told BBC News the decision to close one of his schools – Trinity Catholic College, in Middlesbrough – was primarily about the school’s duty of care towards pupils and staff.
Hugh Hegarty, head of the Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust, which oversees the closed school, said he had made the decision after 36 pupils and eight staff members returned from a skiing trip to Italy over half-term.
“It’s important people acknowledge that schools and other organisations have a duty of care to staff and have a duty of care to their children – and that is my paramount concern,” said Mr Hegarty.
“The challenge for us was… the children had returned to school on Monday, so there had been the potential that the total school population had been exposed – even though it was minimal – to the potential risk and potential threat.
“The decision was made to advise those parents who had children on the ski trip to self-isolate and the other students to remain at home until we commence a deep clean.”
In Kidderminster, Worcestershire, the ContinU Plus Academy closed for the day on Wednesday after a staff member had been in “close contact” with a family member self-isolating following a trip to northern Italy.
William Martin Church of England Junior, Infant and Nursery School in Harlow, Essex, also closed on Wednesday after a staff member had returned from Italy.
Head teacher Gina Bailey said: “The school is closed for one day and it is purely as a precaution. The staff member is not displaying any symptoms of the virus.”
But other schools have decided not to close following ski trips to northern Italy.
At St Aldhelm’s Academy, in Dorset, head teacher Jon Webb wrote to parents: “As it currently stands, we are not aware of anyone returning from the ski trip who are displaying symptoms that would cause us to have any concerns.”
What is the official advice to schools?
PHE’s medical director Prof Paul Cosford acknowledged schools had to take “difficult decisions given the complexity of the issues that they’re facing”.
“Of course, schools have difficult decisions to take – a whole range of issues to take into account and we are able to talk to them about their specific circumstances and help them make the right decisions for them,” he said.
“But what I would say is that our general advice is not to close schools.”
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there was “no blanket closure” for schools and the “goal was to keep schools open”.
“If anyone has been in contact with a suspected case in a childcare or an educational setting, no special measures are required while test results are awaited,” Mr Hancock told MPs.
“There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home.
“Once the results arrive, those who test negative will be advised individually about returning to education.
“In most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary but this will be a local decision based on various factors including professional advice.”
Head teachers in England should contact their regional schools commissioners should they need advice, he added.
Official government guidance for educational settings says if a pupil or member of staff is confirmed as having coronavirus, anyone who has been “in close face-to-face or touching contact, including those undertaking small group work (within 2m [6ft] of the case for more than 15 minutes)” should self-isolate at home, or within their boarding school dormitory room, for 14 days”.
Does parental pressure affect head teachers’ decisions?
Some parents have expressed concern via social media about their child coming into contact with the coronavirus, particularly if fellow pupils have been away in northern Italy.
But while some parents want to see schools closed, others do not want their child’s education to be disrupted.
Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton said: “Schools listen carefully to the views of parents and they will obviously have regard to this feedback in making decisions over how to respond to any situation regarding coronavirus.
“However, it is often the case that different parents will have different views over an unfolding event, so school leaders have to take this range of opinion on board, together with the views of other stakeholders, and make a judgement on what response serves the best interests of all pupils and staff.”
Could there be an impact on the exam season?
With the exam season coming up next term, some teachers, parents and young people may be worried about disruption to important exams.
But the exams watchdog Ofqual said it was monitoring the situation closely and students should not be concerned.
“We routinely consider whether there are particular risks to the smooth running of exams and we are working closely with the exam boards and with the Department for Education,” a spokesman said.
“We will update our existing guidance to reflect any specific arrangements schools and colleges should put in place if required.
“In the meantime, students should continue to prepare for the summer exams as usual and schools and colleges should ensure their contingency plans are up to date.”
Mr Barton said: “We would urge students who are studying for their exams not to worry about what may or may not happen with regards to coronavirus and to concentrate on preparing for these important qualifications.”
The number of new coronavirus cases being officially reported outside China has overtaken those reported by Beijing for the first time since the outbreak began, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
According to WHO, 427 cases were reported by 37 countries on Tuesday, compared with 411 by the Chinese authorities.
While 96.5% of the total number of 80,980 cases reported so far are in China, the latest figures on new infections suggest Beijing’s strict response to the crisis is paying off.
The virus has killed 2,715 people and infected more than 78,000 in China. There were a further 52 deaths inside the country reported on Wednesday – the lowest in three weeks – with no fatalities outside the centre of the outbreak in Hubei province.
China’s national health commission also reported a drop in the number of new infections to 406, with only five outside Hubei. In the rest of the world there have been more than 40 deaths and 2,700 cases.
On Wednesday, Beijing’s health commissioner announced that the capital would quarantine people for 14 days at home or in groups if they have been to countries seriously affected by the coronavirus.
However, the number of cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea is continuing to rise – a trend that the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described as “deeply concerning”.
The virus has proliferated in parts of Asia, Europe and the Middle East in recent days, with the death toll rising in Iran, infections in South Korea passing 1,200 and the first Latin American case reportedly confirmed in Brazil – even as the number of deaths and fresh cases decline at the centre of the outbreak of the disease in China.
Despite the disease’s spread, Tedros once again warned against rushing to declare a pandemic.
“Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralysing systems,” he said on Wednesday. “It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true.”
Tedros said a WHO mission would travel to Iran at the weekend, where 19 people have died and 139 others have been infected by the virus.
South Korea reported 284 new infections on Wednesday, raising the total to 1,261 – by far the highest outside China – while an 11th person died.
Ninety per cent of the new infections in South Korea were in Daegu and the neighbouring province of North Gyeongsang. Seoul has announced plans to introduce “maximum measures” to contain the coronavirus, including plans to test about 200,000 members of a secretive church believed to be at the centre of the country’s outbreak.
Italy, meanwhile, has reported 374 cases and 10 deaths. Authorities have locked down 11 towns and ordered Serie A football games to be played to empty stadiums.
Croatia, Austria and Switzerland reported their first cases on Tuesday, while Greece reported its first on Wednesday.
In France, a second person infected with the coronavirus died late on Tuesday, according to the country’s health ministry. The death was one of three new cases in France this week, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 17. A Chinese tourist who had tested positive for the virus died earlier this month.
Ten cases of the virus have been detected across Spain in the past 36 hours and hundreds of guests and workers remain in quarantine in a hotel in Tenerife after four Italian guests tested positive for coronavirus.
Speaking in Italy on Wednesday morning, WHO’s Europe director said that while the virus was being taken very seriously, people needed to remain calm and keep things in perspective.
“We should keep in mind the principle of proportionality – we look and assess the risks objectively and then formulate the response,” said Hans Kluge.
“We take the virus and the situation very seriously. At the same time, we should also remember that four out of five patients have mild symptoms and recover. The mortality [rate] is about 2% now – 1% in China – and it’s mainly affecting people over 65 with weakened immunity and who have other diseases at the same time.”
Dr Stella Kyriakides, the EU commissioner for health and food safety, described the outbreak as “a test case for existing global emergency response mechanisms” as well as EU co-operation.
She stressed the need for real-time information sharing and said all member states had been asked to review their pandemic plans and healthcare capabilities, especially when it came to diagnosis, laboratory testing and contact-tracing procedures.
Kyriakides said that while the EU was in the “containment phase” of the virus it had to be ready for a rise in cases. The commissioner also welcomed the support of those European ministers who had said that borders should remain open, adding that it was not the time for “what could … be considered disproportionate and ineffective measures”.
Issuing a further call for calm, Kyriakides urged people to seek out reliable sources of information on the virus and avoid those trying to use the outbreak to further their own agendas. “This is a situation of concern but we must not give in to panic,” she said.
“We must also be vigilant when it comes to misinformation and disinformation as well as xenophobic statements, which are misleading citizens and putting into question the works of public authorities.”