Mar 20, 2020 05:00 AM

Coronavirus Live Updates (Thursday): Italy’s Death Toll Surpasses China’s; India Bars Inbound Flights



Friday, March 20, 3 a.m.

Italy reports more deaths than China

Italy overtook China to report the world’s highest total of fatalities from Covid-19 with deaths reaching 3,405 Thursday.

The country recorded 427 new deaths for the day, according to the country’s Civil Protection Agency. The figure was down from the 475 deaths registered the previous day, the highest single-day rise of all countries so far.

The outbreak flared up in northern Italy in February and has since spread quickly, overwhelming hospitals. As of Thursday, the country reported total infections of 41,035, up from 35,713 the previous day.

Italy will extend its lockdown to contain the virus, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said earlier Thursday. All nonessential retailers will remain closed beyond the original deadline of Wednesday and schools beyond April 3.

The highly infectious disease has killed 3,245 people in China, where it first emerged late last year. Globally, the caseload topped 227,000 by Thursday, with a death toll of more than 9,300, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

U.S. Tells Citizens to Stop Traveling Aboard

The U.S. State Department raised its travel alert to Level 4 for the entire world in an unprecedented move to restrict overseas travel amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Level 4 travel advisory, the highest of its kind, “advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19." Those already abroad are instructed to either return to the U.S. or prepare to shelter in place.

Last week, the State Department raised the travel alert to Level 3.

In other coronavirus-related news:

• India barred all international flights from landing in the country for a week starting March 22 in a move to contain the fast-spreading disease. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also urged the country’s 1.3 billion citizens to stay indoors to reduce risks.

India has confirmed 176 cases, including three deaths so far, according to Johns Hopkins data.

• The risk of the new coronavirus is now considered low in most parts of China as the country picks up the pace of returning to normal work and life, according to a statement issued after a central government meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang Thursday.

But the meeting highlighted the risks of imported cases as the disease spreads rapidly outside China, calling for international coordination.

• An official at the World Health Organization warned of undetected cases of Covid-19 in Africa, although the number is probably not large. It’s difficult to estimate the true case load, said Matshidiso Moeti, the regional director of the United Nations’ WHO.

As of March 19, 33 African countries reported more than 600 cases and 17 deaths. The disease has spread at a relatively slow pace in Africa compared with other parts of the world, but it is unclear whether that is related to temperature, Moeti said.

If that is the case, the continent may expect an increase in transmission of the virus when winter sets in, she said.

Compiled by Han Wei

Thurs, March 19, 6:30 p.m.

Whistleblower doctor investigation

• Chinese investigators have unveiled their report into the reprimand and death (link in Chinese) of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, who was among the first to try to warn people about Covid-19 in December, but was muzzled by police. He died of the illness in early February, sparking public outrage prompting China’s central government to send a team of investigators to Wuhan, Hubei province, where he worked.

The report found that the reprimand that Li received as a result of sharing information about the virus was improper and that law enforcement was not up to code. The investigation team recommended that the supervisory body of Wuhan make corrections and urge the public security bureau repeal the reprimand, investigate the persons responsible, and announce results to the public.

China struggles to return to normal

• At a Wednesday meeting (link in Chinese) of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on all levels of the party and government to address the economy, which was described as experiencing increased and continuous downward pressure.

Chinese officials and local governments were told to reestablish economic and social order with increased urgency and make efforts to minimize the losses caused by the epidemic, including by keeping global supply chains unimpeded, promoting foreign investment and ensuring normal trade.

Areas deemed to be at “low risk” of infection must “fully resume normal life and productivity” by removing barriers such as quarantines. Regions at “medium risk,” aside from Hubei province and Beijing, must resume normal life and productivity while conducting targeted disease prevention measures.

Meanwhile, in efforts to stop the pandemic, the meeting concluded that China must strengthen international partnerships on epidemic prevention, work “intimately” with the World Health Organization (WHO), share its experience in fighting disease, strengthen guidance of and support for Chinese citizens abroad, optimize screening and quarantines of those entering its borders, and eliminate loopholes in community disease prevention.

• Amid high-level calls to resume trade, the port of Fuzhou in eastern China is restricting vessels arriving from nine countries in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus by visiting ships and their crew.

Vessels arriving from Japan, South Korea, Iran, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the U.S., and Singapore won’t be allowed entry into the port until they’ve completed a mandatory 14-day quarantine, said people with knowledge of the terminal’s decision. The countdown begins when ships depart from those nations

• Following the Wednesday Politburo Standing Committee meeting, the Beijing municipal government has rescinded certain exemptions (link in Chinese) to its sweeping new policy of requiring all overseas arrivals to undergo “concentrated quarantine” at a government-designated facility, making its third update to immigration policy in five days.

Those living alone, who could previously apply to be quarantined at home, are no longer able to do so, while minors that could previously be exempt are now limited to those aged 14 and younger. The elderly aged 70 years and above, pregnant women and those with underlying conditions can still apply with their community managers to be quarantined at home.

Global outbreak and response

• An unclassified 103-page federal document first distributed among U.S. officials last week warned that the escalating Covid-19 pandemic could last “18 months or longer” and may feature “multiple waves” of illness.

The document, dated Friday, the same day that U.S. President Trump declared a national emergency, warned that supply chain and transport disruptions will “likely result in significant shortages for government, private sector, and individual U.S. consumers,” and that a synchronized federal response was necessary.

The warning comes as Trump asked Congress to approve emergency measures to send undisclosed sums of money to citizens via checks to alleviate financial pressures caused by the pandemic.

The country reported 9,415 cases Thursday and two deaths, according to data compiled by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University. The numbers represent a growth of nearly 3,000 cases from the previous day amid reports that the U.S. has yet to catch up on screening.

• Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the country will close its borders to all noncitizens and nonresidents starting 9 p.m. Friday in an effort to hamper the spread of Covid-19.

The move follows the country’s issuing of the most severe travel advice in its history Wednesday, which warned citizens to not travel abroad.

Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, and its Jetstar subsidiary have since announced they were suspending all international flights from late March as well as cutting 60% of domestic flights.

• Russian health officials have confirmed the country’s first death as a result of Covid-19, namely of a 79-year-old woman with underlying conditions. She was reported to have been hospitalized on Friday.

The country has reported only 147 cases of the strain of coronavirus as of Thursday evening.

• Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has announced that the country will extend its lockdown, keeping nonessential retailers closed beyond Wednesday and schools beyond April 3.

As of Thursday evening, Italy remained the worst-hit country aside from China and had reported at least 35,713 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths.

• Singapore announced Thursday that it would open schools and kindergartens on Monday as planned, albeit with stricter measures, despite a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases Wednesday.

Measures included mandatory quarantines of students and staff returning from overseas, a suspension of extracurricular activities, spacing students farther apart and temperature checks.

Medical updates

• The WHO said Wednesday that it would launch clinical trials of Covid-19 treatments in various countries simultaneously as a coordinated effort to find a cure for the disease that has infected more than 200,000 people worldwide, medical news outlet STAT reported.

STAT quoted WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as saying that four drugs or drug combinations would be tested, and that 10 countries have volunteered to take part so far.

• Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences have found that rhesus macaques, a species of monkeys native to South, Central, and Southeast Asia, who were infected by and have recovered from Covid-19, developed antibodies that prevented reinfection.

The findings, posted as a preprint to medical research sharing platform bioRxiv last week, comes as health experts puzzle over cases of potential Covid-19 reinfection among humans.

• Chinese regulators approved the start of human trials for a vaccine against the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, Hong Kong-listed CanSino Biologics Inc. said.

The vaccine, co-developed by CanSino and China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences, will undergo clinical trials in Wuhan, ground zero of China’s epidemic, CanSino said Wednesday in a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

• In an interview with Caixin, Shao Yiming, a prominent virologist who is the chief HIV/AIDS expert at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that the characteristics of the new coronavirus suggest that it may persist and recur like seasonal influenza.

According to Shao, Covid-19 is “smarter” than SARS and MERS, with a relatively low fatality rate, milder cases and a longer incubation period. It also has high infectivity, and its viral proteins are able to bind better with cell receptors and enter human cells more efficiently — a major structural difference between Covid-19 and SARS and MERS. These characteristics give Covid-19 the potential to be like different kinds of flu, which means it’s difficult to eradicate at once and may come back seasonally.

• Australian scientists have mapped how a Covid-19 patient’s immune system fought off the disease, providing new insights that could help doctors direct treatment and researchers develop vaccines.

The team, from the Peter Doherty Institute in Melbourne, tested blood samples taken at four intervals in the course of treatment of a Wuhan woman with a mild-to-moderate infection, and found that the patient mounted a “robust immune response across different cell types … similar to what we see in influenza.”

• A Shanghai woman has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison and fined for hoarding and reselling medical-grade alcohol in a high-profile example of censure against price-gouging.

According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, the woman was in possession of 1,800 five-liter containers of 75% alcohol and was attempting to sell them without a license.

Compiled by Dave Yin

Caixin’s coverage of the new coronavirus

Thurs, March 19, 10 a.m.

China reports no new domestically-produced cases

• For the first time since the Covid-19 epidemic began, China reported zero new infections of domestic origin. That included no new infections in Hubei province, the epicenter of the country’s epidemic, which in recent days was the only province in China to report such cases.

Of the 34 new cases reported on the Chinese mainland through the end of Wednesday, all were imported from overseas. Twenty-one of those were detected in Beijing, nine in Guangdong province, two in Shanghai, one in Heilongjiang province, and one in Zhejiang province, according to the latest data (link in Chinese) from China’s top health body.

China has reported a total of 81,237 cases as of Thursday morning, while imported cases on the mainland totaled 189. China also reported eight new deaths, all in Hubei province, for a total of 3,250. There were 23 new suspected cases on the mainland, bringing the current total to 105.

Hong Kong reported 25 new cases Wednesday for a total of 192, including four deaths; Macao reported four new cases for a total of 17, including two imports on Thursday; and Taiwan reported 23 more cases, bringing its total to 100, including one death.

Global spread

• The global case load of Covid-19 reached 218,743 Thursday morning after surpassing 200,000 cases worldwide just Wednesday evening, as countries around the world attempt to ramp up testing capacity, according to data compiled by a research collective at Johns Hopkins University.

Total deaths as a result of the disease reached 8,810, a jump of more than 800 from the previous evening, the data showed.

•After receiving heavy criticism for his “herd immunity” plan, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country will ramp up Covid-19 testing to 25,000 tests a day and prioritize testing for frontline medical staff. Under the previous rules, individuals were only tested if they were hospitalized, and medical staff were excluded. The policy was changed after an online petition garnered 700,000 signatures.

• At a Wednesday White House press conference, U.S. President Donald Trump said that he will be invoking the country’s Defense Production Act to expand the production of masks and other medical protective gear in light of global shortages.

• U.S. researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle gave the first shot of an experimental Covid-19 vaccine to a volunteer this week. The test will be conducted on a total of 45 volunteers, who will receive two doses, a month apart. However, experts cautioned that the vaccines may not be available for at least a year.

Compiled by Dave Yin

 Read more
Coronavirus Live Updates (Wednesday): Record Daily Deaths in Italy; U.K. Closes All Schools; Top Chinese Expert Says ‘Herd Immunity’ Won’t Work

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