Feb 16, 2020 08:30 PM

Coronavirus Sunday Update: Taiwan Reports First Death, Wuhan Virology Institute Denies Rumors


China is grappling with an outbreak of infections from a new coronavirus that began in December. Caixin Global will continue covering this story as it develops. Please check back regularly for updates.

Read more of Caixin’s coverage of the new coronavirus.

Sunday, Feb. 16, 8 p.m.

Taiwan reported (link in Chinese) two new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, including its first death from the new coronavirus, bringing the region’s total confirmed cases to 20.

The man who passed away on Saturday evening had not traveled outside the island and was not known to have had close contact with any confirmed Covid-19 patient, the local health authority said.

Sunday, Feb. 16, 5 p.m.

Japan’s health ministry confirmed (link in Japanese) another 70 Covid-19 cases on the Diamond Princess cruise ship on Sunday. It is a new peak in the daily tally of confirmed new cases on the ship since the outbreak was discovered there, the biggest virus cluster outside China so far.

The number of total confirmed cases reached 355, nearly one in 10 of the 3,771 passengers and crew on board, bringing Japan’s confirmed cases to 408.

The spike in cases has raised concerns that the virus could spread quickly in Japan. Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s minister of health, labor and welfare, admitted on Saturday that authorities were not sure how several patients in the country had contracted the virus. This makes the government’s assessment of the epidemic different from the previous situation, he said.

The ship has been quarantined since Feb. 5 off the coast of Yokohama, a port city south of Tokyo, after a passenger who had stayed on board from Jan. 20 to Jan. 25 was confirmed infected on Feb. 1.

The Japanese government has been criticized (link in Chinese) for its handling of the emergency on the ship. Passengers were forced to stay in rooms which did not receive cleaning services or changes of bedding. Some rooms do not have windows, which may raise the risk of cross-infection.

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Wuhan virology institute denies rumors

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has denied online rumors that one of its graduates was “patient zero” of the coronavirus outbreak. The institute has been the subject of numerous rumors and conspiracy theories since the outbreak began.

A statement (link in Chinese) from the institute said the student in question is healthy, has been working outside Hubei province, and has not gone back to Wuhan since graduation.

“Patient zero” refers to the first person to contract and spread a virus, beginning an epidemic. In the Covid-19 outbreak, patient zero remains unknown. An article published in British medical journal The Lancet studying the first batch of 41 patients in Wuhan said that the symptom onset date of the first patient identified was Dec. 1.

Lab researchers and medical experts around the world have also denied rumors that the virus was man-made or leaked by the lab. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is the only P4 level biosafety laboratory in China, the country’s highest level of biosecurity.

In other virus news

• Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Saturday that he gives China credit for its efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

He also said that it is now, more than ever, the time to let science and evidence lead policy.

• Malaysia’s national health authority confirmed Saturday that an American passenger who had been on board the MS Westerdam cruise ship was confirmed infected with the coronavirus, raising concerns that other passengers may have been infected as well. She was diagnosed (link in Chinese) after flying from Cambodia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital.

Sunday, Feb. 16, 11 a.m.

Another 2,009 people in China were confirmed infected with the Covid-19 disease on Saturday, bringing the country’s total to 68,584, official data show (link in Chinese). The death toll rose by 142 on Saturday to 1,666.

The number of daily newly confirmed cases, however, dropped for the third day in a row. Most of the newly confirmed cases were in Hubei province (link in Chinese), the epicenter of the outbreak. New cases outside of Hubei increased by 166, the 12th straight daily decline, illustrating a slowing infection rate in other parts of China. Globally, confirmed cases have surpassed 69,000.

Temporary hospital suffers leaks in heavy storm

• Heavy wind and snow engulfed Wuhan on Saturday, causing leaks and flooding in the rapidly constructed Thunder God Hospital quarantine center that may delay treatment of new patients.

• Caixin reporters at the hospital saw (link in Chinese) water in several buildings which had just finished construction. The ground in the hospital was slippery and workers were busy mending the ceilings.

• Construction of Thunder God Hospital, meant to provide the city with an additional 1,500 beds to treat coronavirus patients, started on Jan. 27. The first buildings came into use on Feb. 8.

U.S. cruise ship evacuation plane to arrive in Japan tonight

• A chartered aircraft that the U.S. has deployed (link in Chinese) to evacuate American citizens and their families from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, currently quarantined off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, is expected to arrive in Japan this evening.

• There are approximately 400 U.S. citizens on board the ship, according to a statement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Americans must pass screening for coronavirus symptoms before they can board the aircraft, and will be subject to a 14-day quarantine at existing quarantine sites in the U.S. upon arrival.

Compiled by Guo Yingzhe

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