Wuhan: Chinese authorities deployed military doctors and locked down more cities to curb the spread of the new coronavirus as reports emerged of hospitals at the centre of the outbreak struggling to cope with growing numbers of sick people.
New cases were reported in the US, Europe, Australia and Malaysia, with the virus now on four continents. In China, the National Health Commission said Saturday there are 1,287 confirmed cases, including 444 new ones, and that 41 people have died. It reported 237 severe cases.
The People’s Liberation Army sent 450 medical personnel, including those who’ve had experience in fighting viral pandemics, to Wuhan to help out at local hospitals, according to the Xinhua News Agency. Health centres in Wuhan are struggling to treat hundreds of sick people, with many turned away from hospitals crammed with patients lying in packed corridors, the South China Morning Post reported.
The dramatic rise in the death count in China signals the virus isn’t yet under control despite aggressive steps by authorities there to limit movement for millions of people who live in cities near the centre of the outbreak. The restrictions come during the Lunar New Year, the country’s biggest celebration during which billions of trips are typically taken for vacation and visiting of family.
While movement from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, and nearby areas has been limited, thousands of people left the region for other points before the bans took effect. In the US, two cases have been confirmed in people who returned from China. Europe’s first cases were identified in France, while Australia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Nepal reported infections.
Scientists around the globe have been working to understand the virus better, how contagious it is and where it comes from. First detected in Wuhan last month, it has sparked fears that the disease could rival SARS, the pandemic that claimed almost 800 lives 17 years ago.
An official statement gave grounds for optimism, noting that two of five victims in Thailand are better now and that one case has been cured in Japan.
While global experts have mostly praised efforts to contain the virus, Chinese citizens are increasingly critical and anxious as the travel restrictions grow to encompass more than 50 million people. Jiang Chaoliang, the Communist Party secretary of Hubei province, said Friday that China should investigate when people who had been in Wuhan are involved in cases outside the province.
Australia’s first confirmed case was the infection of a Wuhan man in his 50s who flew into Melbourne on Jan. 19. The government warned its citizens not to travel to Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.
The cases in Malaysia were a woman and her two grandchildren — Chinese nationals from Wuhan — who had travelled there from Singapore. They are related to a 66-year-old man and his son who had tested positive for the virus in Singapore. The city-state’s authorities tipped Malaysia off that the family had entered the country, and the three have been isolated and are in stable conditions with cough symptoms, Malaysia’s health minister said.
In China, a doctor suspected of having the coronavirus died on Saturday in Hubei, according to local media. It’s not immediately clear if the 62-year-old specialist was working on the front lines to treat the illness.
Beyond the restricted areas near Wuhan, major closures took place across the country amid the health fears. Public events to mark the new year were cancelled. Shanghai Disneyland announced that it was closing indefinitely, and cinema chains cancelled movie screenings. The halt to activity comes during what is usually a peak period for spending.
US President Donald Trump, who is negotiating a trade agreement with China, praised its efforts to control the outbreak and thanked his counterpart, Xi Jinping.
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” Trump said in a tweet Friday.
France’s Health Ministry confirmed three cases of the coronavirus late Friday, the first reported infections in Europe. The first case is in Bordeaux, and the other two are in Paris — all three of the infected persons had been in China.
In the US, two cases have been reported and health authorities are monitoring more than 60 people for potential infection. US lawmakers said health authorities are expected to confirm a third case, following a closed-door briefing between lawmakers in Washington and federal health officials.
“We are expecting more cases in the US and we are likely going to see some cases among close contacts of travellers and human-to-human transmission,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases.
Three people in New York state are being investigated for possible infection, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. A fourth person has been investigated and tested negative.
The virus is believed to have emerged last month in a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, spreading from infected animals to humans. It has an incubation period of about two weeks before infected people start to show symptoms, which resemble a cold or flu, the CDC said.
The CDC said it’s working to get tests for the virus out to states so they can more quickly identify cases. Currently, samples have to be sent to the CDC for analysis.
“This situation is rapidly evolving. Information is coming in hour by hour, day by day,” Messonnier said.