This picture taken on February 3, 2020 shows police officers wearing protective face masks at Beijing's Capital International Airport in Beijing.
AFP/Nicolas Asfouri
China virus cases pass 70,000 as WHO mission begins
Helen Roxburgh, Beiyi Seow (Agence France-Presse) - February 17, 2020 - 8:46am

BEIJING, China — The number of people infected with the new coronavirus in China passed 70,000 on Monday as international experts began meetings with their Chinese counterparts on how to tackle an epidemic that has caused global concern.

The death toll jumped to 1,765 in mainland China after 100 more people died in Hubei province, where the virus first emerged in December before spreading across the country and overseas.

Worries about its spread remain high and the epidemic's reach was highlighted by the US announcing that more than three dozen Americans from a cruise ship quarantined off Japan were infected.

The number of new cases of the COVID-19 strain spiked last week when officials in Hubei changed their criteria for counting cases to include people diagnosed through lung imaging.

The number of new cases in the province on Monday was around 100 higher than those on Sunday but still sharply down from those reported on Friday and Saturday.

The latest figures came as the head of the World Health Organization said international experts in a WHO-led joint mission had arrived in Beijing and had had their first meeting with their Chinese counterparts.

"We look forward to this vitally important collaboration contributing to global knowledge about the #COVID19 outbreak," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter.

Mi Feng, National Health Commission spokesman, said Sunday that slowing case numbers nationally showed that China was controlling the outbreak.

But Tedros has warned it is "impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take".

The UN health body has also asked China for more details on how diagnoses are being made.

Tightening movement

The scale of the epidemic ballooned on Thursday last week after authorities in Hubei changed their criteria for counting cases, retroactively adding 14,000 cases in a single day.

Chinese authorities have placed about 56 million people in Hubei and its capital Wuhan under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.

Even as China insisted the epidemic was under control, Hubei authorities announced on Sunday a tightening of movement across the province.

This includes broad instructions that residential compounds and villages be "sealed off" from unnecessary visitors, with tenants' outings "strictly managed".

Local authorities elsewhere in China have also introduced measures to try and stop the virus spreading.

Beijing's municipal government has enacted a rule requiring people coming to the capital to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to official media.

Outside mainland China, Taipei officials reported the island's first death from the new coronavirus on Sunday, as a 61-year-old man from central Taiwan with underlying health problems but no recent overseas travel history died in hospital.

He is the fifth person outside of the mainland to die from the virus, with the other deaths in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan and France.

The biggest cluster outside China is on a quarantined cruise ship off Japan, with 355 infections confirmed.

A top US health official on Sunday said 40 Americans from the ship have become infected and would be treated in Japan. 

Other Americans left the Diamond Princess into the early hours of Monday for chartered jets that would fly them home -- and into further quarantine.

Social stability

The virus spread last month as millions travelled across China for the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to try to prevent more infections.

People have slowly started to return to work in the past two weeks, though many are doing their jobs from home and schools remain closed.

With the government facing criticism over its handling of the crisis, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the government must "increase use of police force" during the crisis. He made the comments in a February 3 speech published by state media on Saturday.

A number of local officials have been sacked for their role in mishandling the outbreak.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 7, 2020 - 7:04pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

April 7, 2020 - 7:04pm

Two elderly South Korean coronavirus patients recovered from severe pneumonia after being treated with plasma from survivors, researchers said Tuesday, offering hope in the face of the global pandemic.

Scientists have pointed to the potential benefits of plasma -- a blood fluid -- from recovered individuals who have developed antibodies to the virus enabling the body's defences to attack it.

Since emerging in China in December, the coronavirus has killed almost 75,000 people as drugmakers worldwide race to develop a vaccine and treatments for the disease.

Plasma therapy could become "an alternative treatment for patients in critical condition who do not respond to antiviral drugs," said Choi Jun-yong, a doctor and researcher at Severance Hospital in Seoul, where both patients were treated.

But large-scale clinical trials were needed to prove its effectiveness, he added. -- AFP

April 7, 2020 - 5:06pm

The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) expects to process 10,000 COVID-19 test samples a day within the next three months, the coronavirus task force said.

The hospital is also preparing to distribute 900,000 testing kits to various accredited testing centers in the country.

"Focus on testing and we'll take care of the logistics. We will help you fulfill your requirements. Tell us what you need and we will help you," COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez told administrators of the medical facility.

April 7, 2020 - 4:54pm

The Department of Health reports 104 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 3,764. 

The Health department also announces 11 new recoveries. 

April 7, 2020 - 2:56pm

Deep in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil, where rivers are the only highways, the coronavirus pandemic is sharply limiting boat traffic, leaving villages even more cut off from the world than before.

Canoes, motor boats and ferries are the cars, trucks and buses of the Amazon, bringing people and goods to remote communities that can only be reached by river -- sometimes with a journey of more than a week.

But because of the pandemic, authorities in Amazonas state have restricted river traffic to essential travel, seeking to stop the spread of the virus in a region that could be particularly vulnerable to it.

Cargo transport is operating normally, but passenger transport is restricted to exceptional circumstances such as medical emergencies and essential services like paramedics and police, said Jerfeson Caldas, regional coordinator for national health agency Anvisa.

Even those trips are bound by special rules: boats can only operate at 40 percent of their passenger capacity, and must supply water, soap and hand sanitizer.

The restrictions amount to the jungle equivalent of the isolation measures now in place for around half the world's population.

"Amazonas depends on rivers for more than 85 percent of the transport we survive on. Unfortunately, people here are now living a sad reality because of this crisis," says Alessandra Martins Pontes, a transportation planning expert at Amazonas Federal University. -- AFP

April 7, 2020 - 11:17am

The Department of Science and Technology says it has accelerated its mass production of face shields to be distributed in various hospitals in the country.

Two of the department's research and development institutes and a research laboratory in a state university have devoted their resources in creating the face shields.

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