Feb 22, 2020 02:10 AM

Coronavirus Friday Update: ‘No Turning Point Yet,’ Politburo Meeting Finds; Cases in Iran ‘Worrisome,’ WHO Says


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.

Caixin’s coverage of the new coronavirus


Saturday, Feb. 22, 2:00 a.m.

A meeting of the Communist Party Politburo Friday said the Covid-19 epidemic in China has been tentatively contained but hasn’t yet reached a turning point.

Initial progress has been made, and the number of new confirmed and suspected cases across the country has been on the decline, especially in the provinces outside epidemic epicenter Hubei province, the meeting found. But it’s important to keep in mind that the situation in Hubei and the city of Wuhan is still grim, the meeting found.

Resuming transportation and getting migrant workers back to work are priorities for ramping economic activity back up, the Politburo said.

A joint mission in China led by the World Health Organization (WHO) will travel to Wuhan Saturday to continue its work at the epicenter of the outbreak, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday on Twitter. The group of international experts arrived in Beijing last week and has been working in Sichuan and Guangdong provinces.

A jump in coronavirus cases in Iran is a cause for concern because they have no direct link to China, the United Nations’ WHO said. Iran confirmed 18 new cases and four deaths in just two days. A new study estimated that two-thirds of cases exported from China have gone undetected worldwide, Bloomberg reported.

U.S. officials have now confirmed 34 cases of novel coronavirus in the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. These include 21 cases among repatriated individuals.

Compiled by Denise Jia

Friday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m.

China developments

At least five of China’s prisons have confirmed a whopping 512 cases of Covid-19 infections by Friday, stoking fears that the country’s penitentiaries risk becoming incubators of a virus that appears to run rampant in close quarters.

An official of the Prison Administration of the Ministry of Justice, along with provincial officials confirmed figures in online announcements and at a Friday press conference (link in Chinese).

Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic, confirmed 271 cases Friday (link in Chinese), among which 230 originated at the Wuhan Women’s Prison. Another penitentiary, Shayang Hanjin Prison, reported 41 confirmed and nine suspected cases, while the province’s disciplinary institution for juvenile offenders had one suspected case.

In Shandong province along China’s east coast, a total of 207 individuals at Rencheng Prison, including 200 inmates and seven guards, have been diagnosed with Covid-19, according to provincial officials. According to the Ministry of Justice, Rencheng had 10 suspected cases, contradicting the province’s remarks suggesting all 2,077 individuals at the penitentiary have been tested.

Zhejiang province, also in eastern China, announced Friday that of the 28 cases of the virus it confirmed Thursday, 27 were found among inmates at Shilifeng Prison. This brings the penitentiary’s total number of cases to 34, the province wrote (link in Chinese) on its official WeChat account.

By Friday morning, several of the lockups’ Communist Party chiefs, directors and guards had been fired or disciplined, and provincial-level investigations were underway. In the afternoon, China’s central government approved the formation of a group to investigate Rencheng Prison. The group consists of members of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Justice.

• Hubei provincial party committee secretary Ying Yong is moving to ban and reverse (link in Chinese) the retroactive deduction of confirmed Covid-19 cases from official data, as the province’s drastic changes to epidemic accounting methods in recent days drew criticism.

Cases that have already been removed must be added back, and data must be publicized in a transparent and accurate manner, he said at a press conference Friday.

Reports of a series of new infections in Beijing sparked fears over the capital’s exposure to mounting risks of the deadly coronavirus and have led to large-scale quarantines in at least two downtown hospitals.

According to a city government news briefing Thursday, 22 people at the Peking University People’s Hospital, including patients and medical workers, have been placed under centralized quarantine for medical observation after an elderly patient in the hospital was diagnosed with Covid-19 on Tuesday. More than 200 others are also being monitored for potential exposure.

Meanwhile, at Fuxing Hospital, also in downtown Beijing, a total of 36 novel coronavirus infections were confirmed, including eight medical workers, nine cleaning staff and 19 patients and family members.

Exemptions to a 14-day quarantine are being made for certain foreigners returning to Beijing, as China slowly resumes work following Lunar New Year holiday extended to slow the spread of the virus.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China announced Friday it received updated quarantine rules from the Beijing Covid-19 Prevention and Control Office. It said that to be exempt from the quarantine, a traveler must be a foreign national; must have stayed at least 14 days outside of China before returning; must enter China through Beijing Daxing International Airport or Beijing Capital International Airport; and must have returned from another country on a direct flight. A transfer anywhere inside China would disqualify a person from exemptions.

Overseas spread

South Korea: South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced 48 more cases Friday afternoon, bringing the country’s total to 204 cases. The country also announced its second death.

Earlier in the day, the South Korean government designated the southeastern city of Daegu and the nearby town of Cheongdo as “special management zones” after dozens of cases and a possible “superspreader” were found in the cities, elevating the country’s infections to the third highest in the world.

According to local media, the “special management zone” designation means the government will deploy military medics and set up quarantine facilities as part of emergency measures.

Between Thursday and Friday, dozens of recent cases have been linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, one of whose members, a 61-year-old female churchgoer, who attended service in Daegu, has been identified as a potential “superspreader.”

Japan: Two children, who are brothers, along with an adult in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido have been diagnosed with Covid-19, local media reported Friday afternoon.

According to the report, this is the first time that a person under the age of 10 has been infected in Japan. It is uncommon for children to be infected with the disease. According to a breakdown of Beijing’s 337 patients on Feb. 9, those under the age of 17 made up only 7% of patients.

As of Friday evening, the country had a total of 737 infections, local media reported, citing the country’s health ministry. Meanwhile, more sports events have been modified or canceled, fueling fears that the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics could be affected.

U.S.: The first U.S. national to be diagnosed with Covid-19 has recovered, local authorities said Thursday (link in Chinese).

Health officials in Snohomish county, Washington, said that the man, aged 35, was considered fully recovered after completing quarantine at home. The man was diagnosed and hospitalized after returning to the U.S. on Jan. 15 from Wuhan. After receiving treatment, he was discharged but kept under medical supervision at home.

“We cannot thank him enough for his patience and cooperation throughout the entire process," Snohomish county officials said in a statement.

Africa: A new study assessing African nations’ vulnerability to the new coronavirus has identified Nigeria and Ethiopia as being at the highest risk, and though few cases have been reported so far, a consultant on China-Africa relations said that the spread of the disease on the continent could be imminent.

“If you look at a few pandemics that originated in countries other than on the African continent, like H1N1 and MERS, it was actually quite a while, a month or so, before Africa felt the effects and had their first victims,” said Hannah Ryder, CEO of Development Reimagined, a China-based development consultancy specializing in Africa-China relations. “It’s about now that we should be looking out and countries should be getting quite serious about this, and as many as possible.”

Iran: Iran has confirmed 13 more Covid-19 cases and two more deaths Friday for a total of 18 cases and four deaths, Reuters reported, citing Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur.

Ukraine: Buses carrying Ukrainian evacuees have been attacked while en route to quarantine in a small town in the Eastern European country, the BBC reported.

Some 45 Ukrainians and 27 foreign nationals had evacuated Thursday from Wuhan, according to the report. Several dozen protestors in the small town of Novi Sanzhary threw rocks at the buses that were transporting them to a hospital, and had to be dispersed by the national guard.

Ukraine has not reported any Covid-19 cases.

Market updates

• China’s overall credit growth surged in January, before the extended Lunar New Year holiday curtailed economic activity across much of the country.

Aggregate financing increased 5.07 trillion yuan ($723 billion) last month, the highest since the current data series started in 2017. The median estimate was 4.2 trillion yuan.

Compiled by Dave Yin

Friday, Feb. 21, 11 a.m.

• As of late Thursday, the Chinese mainland had reported 889 new Covid-19 infections, bringing its total confirmed cases to 75,465, according to the latest data (link in Chinese) from the country’s top health body.

The mainland’s death toll rose to 2,236, an increase of 118 from the day before. Of these new deaths, 115 were in Hubei province, the center of the epidemic. The megacity of Chongqing as well as the provinces of Zhejiang and Yunnan each reported one new fatality.

In Hubei, 631 new cases were reported, among which 319 were in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated. While that represents an increase from the previous day’s number, it also marks the second successive day that the provincial total rose by less than 1,000 cases after nearly a month of four-figure daily increases.

Furthermore, China reported 2,109 additional recoveries on the mainland, bringing its total to 18,264, while 1,614 new suspected cases were added, bringing the current total to 5,206.

• As of late Thursday, Hong Kong had reported three new infections for a total of 68 cases including two deaths; Macao reported a total of 10 cases including six recoveries, unchanged from the previous day; and Taiwan’s totals also remained unchanged at 24 cases, of which two recovered, and one died.

Outside China

• South Korea reported 52 more cases Friday morning, bringing its total to 156 infections.

• Canada reported one additional case of the new coronavirus, bringing its total to nine.

• Two Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for Covid-19 upon landing in their home country, local health officials said Friday, bringing Australia’s total to 17.

• Japan reported 634 positive cases on the Diamond Princess late Thursday and 93 infections off the ship, for a total of 727 infections.

• Singapore reported one additional case, bringing its total to 85.

Compiled by Dave Yin

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