Feb 25, 2020 07:20 AM

Coronavirus Monday Update: Virus May Gain Ground Again, Experts Warn; Costco Shanghai Urged to Control Traffic


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


Tuesday, Feb. 25, 02:00 a.m.

As China speeds up efforts to revive the virus-stricken economy amid signs of the epidemic easing, senior health experts warned that the risk remains of a rebound in infection rates.

After days of declines in new infections in most parts of China, several provinces lowered their coronavirus emergency response level from the highest, allowing people to travel more freely for resumption of commerce.

But a resurgence of new infections may appear as the country gradually resumes social and business activities after a month-long suspension, said Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention and a senior expert at the National Health Commission.

Factories, schools and hospitals are the most vulnerable places, Zeng said in an interview Sunday. “(I do) not dare to be too optimistic (at this moment).”

Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), also warned Monday in Beijing that the outbreak could gain ground again as schools reopen and work resumes.

Although the battle against the virus isn’t finished, Aylward lauded China’s unprecedented efforts to lock down cities and restrict population movement to contain the disease. Such efforts have blunted the spread of the coronavirus and averted hundreds of thousands of cases, Aylward said. He led a team of medical experts that visited the outbreak’s epicenter last week.

Aylward called for China’s experience in curbing the epidemic to help battle the virus elsewhere.

While signs of stabilizing emerge in China, the pathogen’s spread in other part of the world has sparked fears after new cases spiked among people with no history of contact with China.

Increases in the numbers of cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea are “deeply concerning,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the United Nations’ WHO at a press briefing in Geneva.

Countries need to do everything they can to prepare for a potential pandemic, Tedros said, although the disease hasn’t reached that stage.

In other coronavirus-related news:

• The Shanghai store of U.S. supermarket chain Costco was warned by city authorities to control customer flow after a long queue reappeared at the store.

Officials of the Minxing district in Shanghai, where the Costco store is, repeatedly summoned company executives Saturday and Sunday, urging them to keep the number of visitors inside the store below 1,000 and to reduce supplies of certain highly popular items to prevent mass gatherings after shoppers started flooding into the store again.

• Shares of U.S. drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc. jumped Monday after the WHO’s Aylward said the company’s experimental drug may be the best bet as a treatment for the Covid-19 virus.

Gilead’s remdesivir is the “one drug right now that we think may have efficacy,” Aylward said in Beijing.

• Hong Kong warned residents Monday to avoid nonessential travel to South Korea after coronavirus cases there surged to 833. The city will bar nonresidents from entering from South Korea starting Tuesday, local broadcaster Now TV reported.

Compiled by Han Wei

Monday, Feb. 24, 7 p.m.

The government will postpone the annual meeting of parliament amid the Covid-19 outbreak, China’s state broadcaster CCTV announced Monday. No new date was given for the meeting, which was initially slated to start March 5.

The country’s top legislative body also decided to formally prohibit the sale and consumption of some wild animals in order to better safeguard public health. It is widely thought that the virus behind the epidemic passed to humans from wild animals.

Those announcements came after China on Sunday recorded its highest number of Covid-19 deaths in 11 days, as 150 people succumbed to the pneumonia-causing virus. The daily death toll hasn’t exceeded that figure since Feb. 12, when 254 people died — although that was back when doctors were using broader diagnostic criteria to count cases.

In a more positive development, the number of new coronavirus infections in China remained below 1,000 for the fifth straight day. Those figures also fell sharply after the diagnostic criteria were narrowed again on Feb. 19.

Here are some other key takeaways from a day when some parts of China relaxed disease controls while fears mounted abroad of a burgeoning global pandemic.

Wuhan eases restrictions — then tightens them again

There was confusion Monday in the city of Wuhan, where the effects of the epidemic have been felt most severely. Despite initially announcing a relaxation on restrictions for entering and exiting the locked-down city, authorities later said the statement had been issued in error and declared it “invalid.”

However, there are signs that things are loosening up in other parts of the country. As of 9 a.m. Monday, the less-affected provinces of Shanxi, Guangdong, Gansu, Liaoning, Guizhou and Yunnan, had lowered their emergency response levels, a move that permits the freer movement of people. Shanxi and Guangdong adjusted theirs down from level one to level two, while the rest went from level one to level three.

Spike in overseas cases

While China makes headway in staunching the virus’s spread, the picture abroad is less positive as hotspots emerge in a number of other countries.

• South Korea logged (link in Korean) 70 new infections, bringing the total there to 833, including seven deaths. The peninsular nation has already placed the 2.5 million-strong city of Daegu under a virtual lockdown after a cluster of cases was discovered among a group of local churchgoers.

• A fifth person died of Covid-19 in Italy, Reuters reported. The European nation, which is by far the worst-hit country outside Asia, has now logged more than 200 cases and essentially placed a dozen northern towns with a combined population exceeding 50,000 under quarantine.

• In Japan, the second worst-hit country in the outbreak, the number of cases rose (link in Japanese) to 850 on Monday, six more than previously reported. Those figures include infected people who were previously quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

• Kuwait (3), Bahrain (1), and Afghanistan (1) all confirmed their first cases, Reuters reported.

• Iranian officials said that the country had reported 12 deaths from the virus, up from the previous figure of eight, as well as up to 61 infections, Reuters reported. Officials rejected a Monday report from the country’s semiofficial news agency, ILNA, that said 50 people in the city of Qom have died from Covid-19. The ILNA report was first put into English by the Associated Press.

• North Korea said it has quarantined 380 foreigners, most of whom appear to be diplomats and overseas traders, as the reclusive nation tries to prevent an outbreak, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Monday. North Korea has not officially reported any Covid-19 cases so far, although it has said that around 3,000 people are being monitored in the China-adjacent North Pyongan province for showing suspected symptoms.

Compiled by Matthew Walsh

Monday, Feb. 24, 12 p.m.

China confirmed 416 new Covid-19 infections on Sunday and 150 new deaths, according to the National Health Commission (link in Chinese).

As of the end of Sunday, China had confirmed 77,262 virus cases, including 74 in Hong Kong, 10 in Macao, and 28 in Taiwan. Hubei province, at the epicenter of the outbreak, retracted some 195 cases that were found to be duplicates.

China had also registered a total of 2,595 virus-related deaths by Sunday night, including two in Hong Kong and one in Taiwan.

All but one of the new deaths occurred in the central province of Hubei, which has been hit hardest. The other death took place in the island province of Hainan.

The Chinese mainland added 620 suspected cases and 1,846 recoveries on Sunday, according to official figures. The number of severe cases also fell by 1,053.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Sunday that the epidemic “will unavoidably have quite a large impact on the economy and society,” adding that the government will ramp up support for the year’s development targets, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported (link in Chinese).

In other coronavirus-related news

• South Korea saw another significant jump in Covid-19 cases. As of 9 a.m. Monday, the country had confirmed (link in Korean) a further 161 infections, according to government data. That brings the total number of cases in South Korea to 763, including seven deaths.

In response to spiraling case numbers, Seoul on Sunday issued its highest infectious disease alert. The government has also put the disease-stricken city of Daegu under virtual lockdown.

• The number of cases continued to rise in Italy, the most-affected country outside Asia. The European nation had confirmed 155 infections including three deaths as of Sunday night, according to the Repubblica newspaper (link in Italian). Officials have locked down a number of towns and villages across the northern part of the country and canceled a number of events, including the end of Venice’s carnival. Some events at Milan’s Fashion Week also restricted access to the public, Bloomberg reported.

• Pakistan and Turkey shut their borders with Iran after the number of cases there abruptly rose.

• Four British passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive for the virus after returning home, England’s chief medical officer said, bringing the number of U.K. cases to 13.

• Government officials and health experts in Japan held a meeting Monday with a view to drawing up an overarching national strategy to check the virus’s spread by Tuesday, NHK reported (link in Japanese). Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said: “At this time, it is extremely important to curtail the speed at which new cases are increasing as soon as possible,” according to the national broadcaster. Japan has recorded 838 Covid-19 cases including three deaths so far, making it the worst-affected country outside China.

Compiled by Matthew Walsh

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