Coronavirus Tuesday Update: U.S. Health Official Warns of Bigger Outbreak, China Offers More Credit Support to Businesses
China is grappling with a new coronavirus epidemic that began in December and has since spread to countries around the world. While the country has made headway controlling the virus’s spread, the picture abroad is less positive as hotspots emerge in a number of other nations, including Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran.
Caixin Global will continue covering this story as it develops. Please check back regularly for updates.
Wednesday, Feb. 26 3:00 a.m.
Scientists continue seeking to decode the novel coronavirus and to predict what happens next. The latest study by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found the overall mortality rate of Covid-19 is about 2.3%.
The rate is based on 72,314 confirmed and suspected cases as of Feb. 11. The actual mortality rate could be lower as many asymptomatic patients were not included in the sample, said Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at CDC.
Patients with underlying health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory illness, hypertension and cancer are prone to higher morality rate of above 5.6%. Elderly patients above age 70 are also more vulnerable to the disease, with a mortality rate above 8%, the study found.
All the death cases involved respiratory failure, multiple organ dysfunction, or septic shock, according to the paper, published Monday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Among patients with these severe conditions, the fatality rate of Covid-19 amounted to 49%.
The findings are in line with what some front-line doctors have observed. In another paper published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, a group of doctors at Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, where the most critically ill patients are treated, found that 61.5% of patients with these severe conditions in the hospital’s intensive care unit died within 28 days as of Feb. 9. The average age of death was 64.4.
Although Covid-19 is less often fatal than the two prior novel coronavirus outbreaks, SARS and MERS, it has caused many more deaths due to the larger number of people infected, the CDC paper said.
Although the World Health Organization has yet to declare Covid-19 a pandemic, infectious disease specialist Daniel Lucey from Georgetown University warned that the outbreak is at risk of reaching pandemic status. Close attention should be paid to the virus’ spread in Africa and Latin America as well in Thailand and Iran, Lucey said in an interview with Caixin.
Lucey said he expected to see progress in research toward treatment and a vaccine against the virus after mid-April.
Lucey in January raised doubt about the origin of the virus, when most people believed a wet market in downtown Wuhan was the source of the outbreak. Based on a study of the first clinical cases, published in The Lancet, Lucey said the first human infections must have occurred no later than November 2019, in another location, before the disease came out of that marketplace.
In the interview with Caixin, Lucey reaffirmed that current public data do not support a conclusion that the wet market is the origin of the virus. Lucey said the search is ongoing for the source of the outbreak.
As the outbreak spreads quickly outside China, a top U.S. health official urged American businesses and families to start preparing for the possibility of a bigger outbreak and disruptions of daily life.
“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC). It is not so much a question of if, but when, said Messonnier.
“Disruption to everyday life might be severe,” Messonnier said, adding that she talked to her children about the issue Tuesday morning. “While I didn’t think they were at risk right now, we as a family ought to be preparing for significant disruption to our lives.”
In other coronavirus related news:
• China steps up policy supports to bolster businesses hit hard by the outbreak. The People’s Bank of China will offer 500 billion yuan ($71.2 billion) of relending and rediscounting funding to commercial lenders for loans to small companies and the agricultural sector. The funding came on top of 300 billion yuan in relending the central bank pledged earlier this month.
The State Council, the cabinet, also encouraged banks to extend repayment deadlines for small business borrowers, especially in Hubei province, to help ease the liquidity crunch companies face due to business disruption.
• A top Iranian health official has been diagnosed with coronavirus as cases spike in the country. Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister, said he tested positive for the virus late Monday. A day earlier, Harirchi said at a televised news conference in Tehran that "the situation is almost stable in the country."
As of Tuesday, Iran reported 95 infections and 16 deaths, the most fatalities outside China.
• About 1,000 guests and workers at a seaside hotel on Tenerife, Spain, were placed under quarantine after an Italian guest was tested positive for the virus.
Compiled by Han Wei
Tuesday, Feb. 25, 5:30 p.m.
Chinese localities with South Korea links restrict inbound travelers
Chinese localities with links to South Korea are boosting their surveillance of incoming tourists, as Covid-19 spreads in the peninsula country and throughout Asia.
The coastal city of Qingdao, Shandong province, which sits a few hundred kilometers from South Korea on the opposite shore of the Yellow Sea, said (link in Chinese) that people entering the city from overseas will be quarantined or put under observation if they have fever or respiratory sickness symptoms, or have had been in contact with fever or coronavirus patients.
The government of Weihai, another costal Shandong city, said (link in Chinese) that starting Tuesday, people traveling to the city from South Korea and Japan will all be quarantined at hotels for 14 days, regardless of nationality. They will not need to pay accommodation fees during the quarantine period, the government said.
Jilin province’s Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture, which is home to hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens of Korean ethnicity, said (link in Chinese) Monday that local travel agencies shouldn’t receive tourist groups including those from overseas.
The Covid-19 outbreak in South Korea has grown to become one of the biggest outside China. The number of confirmed cases (link in Korean) was 977 as of Tuesday afternoon. As many of the cases can be linked to a church in Daegu operated by the Shincheonji religious sect, the country’s government is planning to test all the group’s members. Media reports say the group has an estimated 210,000 members in South Korea.
In other coronavirus-related news
• Chinese hospitals are facing a shortage of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines, which are being used to support critically ill Covid-19 patients. These machines (link in Chinese) can keep patients alive if their heart and lungs fail. China only has about 400 ECMO machines today.
After the virus outbreak, the demand for these machines jumped, with frontline doctors in Wuhan having to borrow them from hospitals nationwide.
• China’s central government is dividing places outside Hubei province and Beijing into low-, medium- and high-risk areas based on the severity of the local epidemic in order to implement targeted measures, an official from China’s top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, said (link in Chinese) at a briefing Tuesday. In low-risk areas, local governments should end restrictions on road travel and help businesses resume operation.
• More manufacturers in China are beginning to produce medical supplies, a move to address a national shortage. Lithium battery recycling company Gem Co. Ltd. said that two of its subsidiaries have received the green light from local health authorities to begin producing liquid disinfectants.
• China’s stock markets had a mixed Tuesday, rebounding from a sharp fall in the morning following a plunge in American markets on Monday. Trading has been hot recently, with volume on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges surpassing 1 trillion yuan ($142 billion) for five consecutive days.
Compiled by Guo Yingzhe
Tuesday, Feb. 25, 11 a.m.
• China confirmed 517 new Covid-19 cases and 71 new deaths on Monday, according to (link in Chinese) the National Health Commission. New confirmed infections rose nationwide, but 24 of the country’s 34 provincial-level regions reported no new cases.
Most of the new cases were reported in Hubei, as the province at the epicenter of the outbreak confirmed (link in Chinese) 499 new cases and 68 additional deaths Monday.
By the end of Monday, China had confirmed 77,779 cases, including 81 in Hong Kong, 10 in Macao, and 30 in Taiwan. The death toll across the country has risen to 2,666, including two in Hong Kong and one in Taiwan.
A total of 27,353 patients have recovered from the disease in China.
• More than 3,000 Chinese medical staff had contracted or were suspected of having the coronavirus as of Monday, according to a team of experts (link in Chinese) from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese health authorities. So far, at least 21 medical workers have died in the battle against the virus, according to Caixin’s calculations. At least 10 died of Covid-19 infection.
In other coronavirus news:
• Chinese stock markets opened lower on Tuesday, following a plunge in American markets on Monday over fears the epidemic could spread further globally and have a rising economic impact. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index was down 2% midway through the trading day.
On Monday in the U.S., both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 indexes posted their biggest one-day declines in two years, wiping out all their gains for the year.
• A nursing home in Wuhan’s Jiang’an district confirmed eight Covid-19 cases on Sunday, adding to concerns that nursing homes are vulnerable to the spread of the new virus, Caixin reporters on the ground have learned (link in Chinese).
• South Korea reported (link in Korean) 60 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday morning, bringing the number of its total cases to 893, its health authority said.
• Canada reported two new infections of the novel coronavirus over the weekend, bringing the total to 11, its minister of health said on Tuesday.
Compiled by Guo Yingzhe
Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2 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 (link in Chinese), 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
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