Feb 22, 2020 10:06 PM

Coronavirus Saturday Update: Global Spread Accelerates as South Korea Reports 142 New Cases; Xi Jinping Thanks Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


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, 6 p.m.

The new coronavirus is spreading faster around the world.

South Korea became a major battlefield (link in Chinese) in the fight against the outbreak on Saturday morning, after the authorities confirmed 142 more cases, bringing its total to 346. That figure now exceeds Japan’s if you exclude the cases brought to that country aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, making South Korea home to more confirmed cases than any other country outside China.

In the Middle East, Israel and Lebanon each confirmed (link in Chinese) their first case on Friday. And in Europe, Italy reported (link in Chinese) its first fatal coronavirus case, making the patient the first European to die from the disease.

The coronavirus’s global spread has alarmed Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), who appealed for more global action to fight the coronavirus. At a press conference held Friday at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, he also warned (link in Chinese) that the window of opportunity for getting the outbreak under control was closing.

Meanwhile, an American health official warned that transmission of the virus from person to person could start happening within the U.S.

Religious sect at the center of South Korea’s outbreak

Of the 142 coronavirus cases reported in South Korea on Friday, the majority were linked to members of an obscure religious sect, called Shincheonji. Among them, 38 were believed to have contracted the virus from other members in a cluster infection. Meanwhile, 92 cases were linked to an outbreak at a hospital near the city of Daegu. Earlier this month, a funeral for the brother of the sect’s leader was held at the hospital, where a member of the sect who was believed to have been infected was present at the time.

In other coronavirus related news

• President Xi Jinping has written a letter to express his gratitude to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the organization’s support for China during the coronavirus outbreak, the official Xinhua News Agency reported (link in Chinese).

Xi’s letter, dated Feb. 20, was a reply to a letter written by Bill Gates earlier this month. In the letter, the Chinese president expressed his “sincere gratitude” for the foundation’s generosity at this critical juncture in China’s fight against the coronavirus.

Earlier this month, the foundation committed up to $100 million to help with the global coronavirus fight. Much of the money was said to be earmarked for China for epidemiological research, emergency intervention, and the research and development of drugs, vaccines and diagnostics.

• In Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, multiple doctors told Caixin (link in Chinese) that the region’s aging population and the government’s slow response in the early days of the outbreak explains why the province has suffered a relatively high death toll and infection rate.

By the end of Friday, 12 people had died from the coronavirus in the province. The figure is the third highest in China after Hubei province, the outbreak’s epicenter, and Central China’s Henan province. The number of confirmed cases in Heilongjiang reached 479, greater than that of its neighboring provinces of Jilin and Liaoning. The number of confirmed cases in Heilongjiang begun to rise earlier this month at a much faster pace than in its two neighbors.

Before Feb. 6, around 70% of confirmed cases were found to be related to cluster infections, according to Sun Wei, a deputy director of the Heilongjiang Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But local governments in the province didn’t start paying attention to disease control and prevention measures until after the Lunar New Year holiday ended earlier this month, a doctor told Caixin.

• A unit of China Baowu Steel Group, China’s largest steel producer, is facing concerns about the health of its thousands of workers in Wuhan, who have kept working throughout the coronavirus outbreak that has shaken the city.

“We all know that there is an incubation period for the disease, so going to work is a gamble,” said one worker, adding that he lives with four family members. “If I ever get infected at work, I’ll be putting my family in danger.”

Compiled by Mo Yelin

Saturday, Feb. 22, 10 a.m.

• By the end of Friday, China had confirmed 76,392 cases of Covid-19, according to the latest data (link in Chinese) from the National Health Commission.

• On Friday, 399 new cases were reported, with 366 cases reported in Central China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.

• Another 109 patients died Friday, according to the data, bringing the total death toll in China to 2,348.

• A total of 20,659 people had officially recovered on the Chinese mainland.

• By the end of Friday, an additional 5,365 people were suspected to be infected with Covid-19, after 1,361 cases were reported that day.

• As of the end of Friday, Hong Kong had reported 68 infections, including two deaths and six recoveries; Taiwan had 26 infections, with one death, while Macao had 10 infections.

In South Korea, 142 additional cases have been reported as of early Saturday, bringing the total to 346, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the Middle East, Israel and Lebanon each confirmed their first case of infection Friday, and the United Arab Emirates reported two new cases, bringing its total to 11.

Italy reported its first fatal case of the new coronavirus Friday, making the patient the first European to die from the disease.

Compiled by Mo Yelin

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