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SOCIETY & CULTURE

By Yilin Chen / Jun 22, 2020 06:03 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

Huang Zheng, founder and CEO of China’s e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo, now has a net worth of $45.4 billion dollars, according to Forbes’ Real-Time Billionaires Rankings. That means he has surpassed Alibaba founder Jack Ma to become the second-richest person in China, closely trailing behind Pony Ma, founder and CEO of Tencent.

What’s the story?

In the short five years since its founding, Pinduoduo has overtaken rival JD.com to become China’s second largest online retailer after Alibaba. Thanks to increased user engagement as people have turned to online platforms amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Nasdaq-listed company’s shares have doubled in value since the beginning of the year.

After rapid growth in the first quarter of 2020, Pinduoduo’s market value rose sharply in June, triggered by robust sales during the annual nationwide shopping promotion on June 18. During the shopping festival, the number of orders on Pinduoduo exceeded 1.1 billion. The company now boasts a market capitalization of over $104 billion with over 628 million active buyers. Huang owns a 45% stake in Pinduoduo and has quickly risen to the top ranks of China’s wealthiest people. However, the company is far from profitable, reporting a net loss of 4 billion yuan ($581.8 million) in the first quarter of 2020.

What are people saying online?

Huang’s staggering net-worth has triggered mixed feelings among internet users. One user dismissed Pinduoduo as an online platform that “mostly sells counterfeit products.” Several other users echoed this sentiment, saying they never expected the company to be so successful.

Other netizens are impressed by Huang’s wealth and optimistic about the company. “It’s only been five years since Pinduoduo was founded. The company has a bright future ahead,” one user wrote.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

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SOCIETY & CULTURE

By Yilin Chen / Jun 19, 2020 05:13 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

From June 11 to June 18, Beijing reported 158 cases of Covid-19. In response to the outbreak, the city has launched a mass testing campaign. People who are deemed to be high risk must receive mandatory tests at designated sites, usually converted parks and sports fields. Others can make reservations for voluntary tests at clinics across the city. Although testing efficiency is high, by international standards, the sheer number of tests needed has put a strain on the city’s testing system.

What’s the story?

Starting from June 14, Beijing committed itself to carrying out as many tests as possible. Several kinds of people are required to be tested at sites run by the government, including those who work in the healthcare and service industries, as well as those with direct links to Xinfadi Market, where the latest outbreak is believed to have begun. Other people who want to be tested can choose among 98 testing clinics and make reservations. Demand for voluntary tests is particularly high among people who want to leave Beijing for work or personal reasons as they need to provide proof of a negative test result up to 7 days in advance of being allowed to travel.

Beijing currently has the capacity to collect 400,000 samples and complete 90,000 tests per day. Due to the gap between sample collection and testing capacities, many people are experiencing delays in receiving their test results. With the surge in testing demand, numerous testing clinics have filled up all bookings for voluntary tests until the end of June, or in extreme cases, until September. Photos of testing sites show crowds of people lined up to get tested. The vast majority of them are wearing masks, but the size of the crowds sometimes makes strict social distancing difficult. Meanwhile, medical personnel must wear full personal protective equipment for hours at a time despite high temperatures.

What are people saying online?

Many people have expressed their approval of Beijing’s swift and widescale action, while acknowledging the mounting difficulties in receiving voluntary tests. One user wrote that she is still waiting for her test results, five days after being tested on June 14.

Others thank medical personnel for their dedication and hard work. They hope that the government can furnish the testing sites with better working environments because of the hot weather.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: In Depth: Controlling Covid-19 May Become Ongoing Game of Whack-a-Mole


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By Yilin Chen / Jun 18, 2020 02:54 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

Sina Weibo, China’s biggest social media site, reopened its trending topics list on Wednesday afternoon. The Cyberspace Administration of China had ordered Weibo to freeze the list for a week as punishment for Weibo “disturbing online order” and “posting illegal information in violation of regulations.”

What’s the story?

Weibo’s trending topics list is back after a week of suspension, fines, and internal review procedures. Web regulators said the punishments were related to Weibo’s violations in an incident involving a person surnamed Jiang, without providing further details. People suspected that they were referring to Weibo’s suppression of viral posts in April regarding an alleged affair of Jiang Fan, Alibaba’s e-commerce chief. Immediately after the feature’s reactivation, the most popular topics included the Covid-19 outbreak in Beijing and abroad, China-Indian border conflict, and China’s college entrance exam timeline this year.

Weibo launched its trending topics list in 2010, and since then, it has become a convenient tool for netizens to follow hot news stories and celebrity gossip. In concept, the list of hashtags is based on user behavior and updated every minute. However, it is no secret that people can buy their way onto the trending topics list. One of the top three spots, for example, costs about 50,000 yuan ($7,066). It is predicted that Weibo will be more careful in dealing with negative content and celebrity news from now on.

What are people saying online?

The hashtag “trending topics list is back” has received 690 million views on Weibo. People have expressed mixed feelings on the list’s return. Some say that they enjoyed reading directly from news providers and a break from the noise of celebrity gossip. “If trending topics depend on who paid more money, I’m fine without it,” one user wrote.

Meanwhile, others who rely heavily on the list to stay informed have enthusiastically welcomed its return and likened their joy to the feeling of reconnecting to WiFi.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: Weibo Posts Stronger User Growth Even as Revenue Falls Amid Pandemic


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By Yilin Chen / Jun 17, 2020 04:56 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

On June 4, Miao Kexin, a fifth-grader at Hebin Elementary School in Changzhou, killed herself shortly after attending a writing class. Almost two weeks later, the controversy is unabated as Miao’s family and many netizens mistrust the official investigation into the suicide and probe possible misconduct by the writing teacher.

What’s the story?

According to Miao’s family who watched the surveillance footage at her school, Miao ran out of the classroom looking distressed after her Chinese writing class. She then jumped to her death from the fourth floor of the school building. After interviewing Miao’s classmates and teachers, preliminary investigations found that the teacher of the writing class did not verbally or physically abuse Miao on the day of her death.

Miao’s parents have expressed their dissatisfaction with the preliminary investigation findings on Weibo and urged witnesses to step forward. Officials confirm that the teacher had previously slapped Miao in the face, and encouraged the parents to pay for extra lessons. The teacher ran private writing lessons for profit, a practice which is forbidden by the education authorities. The parents suspect that the teacher was especially harsh towards Miao because she would not attend the private lessons. Several of the teachers’ former students have come forward with testimonies of the teacher’s abuse of students.

Several widely circulated photos of Miao’s essays immediately before her death show large chunks of her writing crossed out without any reason or feedback. The essay was a reading response to an excerpt from one of China’s four classics, Journey to the West. Above a sentence where the girl wrote “we should not be fooled by hypocritical facades,” the teacher criticized Miao for lacking “positive energy.” Meanwhile, the teacher failed to notice a factual mistake that Miao made about the book’s author, raising doubts about the teacher’s qualifications.

What are people saying online?

Miao’s tragedy has sparked widespread outrage as people condemn the teacher for her alleged misconduct. One indignant user referred to the accident as “indirect murder,” and said that such harsh treatment of an innocent child will eventually cause irreversible harms.

At the same time, other netizens feel reluctant to blame the teacher for what they consider is the girl’s inability to withstand criticism.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: Livestreamed Suicide Raises Painful Questions in China


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By Yilin Chen / Jun 12, 2020 01:13 PM / Society & Culture

What’s trending?

On Thursday evening, a Sina Weibo user accused an unidentified driver of live-streaming the sexual assault of a female passenger in Zhengzhou, Henan. The driver is said to be associated with Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing giant. The Weibo user’s initial post has since received thousands of reposts and sparked widespread concern. Didi Chuxing quickly launched an investigation of the incident and notified the police.

What’s the story?

Using the hashtag “Didi driver live-streams sexual assault,” a Weibo user urged netizens to help her spread the details of an alleged sexual assault where the victim was supposedly drugged. According to an article anonymously posted on the GitHub online platform, cited as evidence by the Weibo user, a driver who claimed to be working for Didi flirted with a female passenger, stopped driving, drugged her using a spray, and proceeded to sexually assault her. He filmed the whole process and posted the footage on an underground live-streaming platform. The anonymous source wrote that thousands of viewers paid money to watch the video. While it remains unclear whether or not the driver is actually associated with Didi Chuxing, the company is closely cooperating with local police in their investigation.

Previous sexual misconduct incidents involving Didi drivers have already put Didi Chuxing under intense scrutiny. From 2014 to 2018, the media reported at least 50 cases of Didi-related sexual harassment and assault, including 2 murders and 19 rapes (Source: Southern Weekly).

What are people saying online?

Many people have questioned the veracity of the incident. Numerous medical professionals have commented that there is no known drug that can knock a person unconscious for 10 minutes with just a few sprays. They argue that the incident seems to have been staged and people should not jump to conclusions. The Weibo user who first exposed the story is now being criticized for hastily blaming Didi Chuxing before police have the chance to confirm the driver’s identity.

Others wrote that, regardless of Didi Chuxing’s involvement or not, the police should thoroughly investigate pornographic live-streaming platforms. “It’s disgusting that there are people who are willing to pay to watch live-streams like this,” one user wrote.

Contact editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

Related: In Depth: China’s Didi Faces Reckoning


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By Ding Yi / May 19, 2020 12:48 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: IC

Photo: IC

Self-driving startup Pony.ai has nabbed licenses to test autonomous vehicles carrying passengers on Beijing’s roads in designated areas, a move that could pave the way for the broader commercialization of such cars.

According to a statement published Monday on the company’s public WeChat account, Pony.ai will mainly focus on testing their fleet of internet-based “robotaxis” on limited routes in the Chinese capital’s Haidian district and Yizhuang in the southeast of the city.

The “robotaxis” will be able to pick up passengers and drive on specified public roads, although a human will have to be present in the driver’s seat just in case of an emergency.

The issuance of the licenses to Pony.ai comes six months after Beijing gave the green light to road test autonomous vehicles carrying passengers.

The company, which is based in California and has research and development centers in Beijing and Guangzhou, claim that its five autonomous vehicles logged a total of 114,700 kilometers in test drives on specially approved roads in Beijing last year and importantly this did not involve passengers.

Pony.ai has taken a further step in making its robotaxi service available to the general public in the U.S. in February, when the company unveiled the PonyPilot service in Fremont, California, allowing local government employees to hail taxis equipped with the company’s own self-driving system using an specially designed app on fixed routes.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: China’s Pony.ai Among First to Launch Passenger-Carrying Robotaxi Service


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By Yang Ge / May 07, 2020 01:13 PM / Society & Culture

Less than two weeks after a major shakeup at the top of one of China’s leading online literature providers, the new management team is moving quickly to quiet cries of discontent among its top authors.

China Literature’s new top brass met with some of the company’s select writers on Wednesday to address their concerns on topics like copyright ownership and paid-versus-free business models. The new management team said discussions were still in progress for a free-read mechanism, but that the model for paid literature offerings would be consolidated and expanded in the future.

Authors were also told they would be able to decide which of their offerings would be free or paid. New CEO Cheng Wu and new President Hou Xiaonan also assured the ranks that inappropriate clauses in their current contracts would be amended and new contracts introduced in the near future.

In their defense, the new management pointed out that contracts at the heart of frayed relations have been in place since last September — well before the new team replaced China Literature’s founding team in a move announced on April 27. The new team came from the ranks of internet giant Tencent, which is China Literature’s biggest stakeholder with 57% ownership at the end of last year.

The management overhaul came as China Literature shifts from making money off subscriptions and advertising toward a business model that generates a growing portion of revenue from selling the rights to produce its platform’s content to movie and TV studios.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

Related: China Literature Replaces Founding Managers With Team of Tencent Executives


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By Yang Ge / May 06, 2020 02:11 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: Visual China

Photo: Visual China

Millions of Chinese kids will have something to look forward to, even as their schools reopen, with word that Shanghai Disneyland will also reopen on May 11.

That’s the word contained in a Wednesday morning announcement from a company that likes to call its parks the “Happiest Place on Earth.” The Shanghai park has been closed for more than three months since China’s outbreak began to crest in late January. Some areas of the larger resort area previously began to reopen as the outbreak eased, but the main theme park has remained shut.

Disney emphasized it will continue to exercise caution to lower any risk of contagion. The number of visitors will be limited during the theme park’s initial reopening, and all tickets must be booked in advance.

The announcement was a rare bit of upbeat news as Disney announced the global pandemic cost it as much as $1.4 billion in its latest reporting quarter — $1 billion of that due to its shuttered theme parks. In addition to Shanghai, the company also operates parks in Hong Kong and Tokyo, as well as Paris and the U.S.

The park’s reopening also comes as many of China’s other major tourist attractions reopen following months of closure at the height of the country’s outbreak. Among those, the Forbidden City in Beijing, one of the nation’s top attractions, reopened its doors to visitors over the just-concluded five-day May Day holiday.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

Related: Chinese Airlines to Carry Two Thirds Fewer Domestic Passengers this Labor Day


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By Bloomberg / Apr 23, 2020 11:10 AM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Mukesh Ambani is again Asia’s richest person after a deal with Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Inc. sent his conglomerate’s stock surging.

Ambani’s fortune rose about $4.7 billion to $49.2 billion on Wednesday, after Reliance Industries Ltd. gained 10%. The jump put Ambani about $3.2 billion ahead of China’s Jack Ma, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The ranking updates after the close of each trading day in the U.S.

Facebook Inc. will invest $5.7 billion in the U.S. social-networking giant’s biggest deal since the 2014 purchase of WhatsApp as it seeks a broader foothold in its biggest global market. The U.S. company will buy about 10% of Jio Platforms, which brings together digital apps and a wireless platform under one umbrella, the Mumbai-based company said in a statement Wednesday.

Before Wednesday, Ambani -- who owns the world’s largest oil refinery -- had declined by $14 billion on the index in 2020, the biggest dollar fall of anyone in Asia. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Ma, whose foundation this week donated 100 million masks to the World Health Organization to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, had lost almost $1 billion through Tuesday.

The partnership with Jio would allow Zuckerberg to step up his expansion in a country that is rapidly embracing online payment and e-commerce as more people get smartphones. Jio Infocomm quickly moved into a position of dominance by offering free plans and undercutting wireless market rivals.

With its half-billion internet users, the South Asian country is a key market for the world’s largest technology companies, including Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. In India, Facebook has about 250 million users, while WhatsApp has more than 400 million.

Related: Tech Entrepreneurs Dominate Latest Hurun Rich List


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By Ding Yi / Mar 24, 2020 12:37 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: Shen Fan/Caixinc

Photo: Shen Fan/Caixinc

Chinese internet behemoth Tencent is partnering with local disease control and prevention departments to launch a health tracking system tailored specifically to students preparing to return to school as education facilities across the country get ready to reopen for the first time in weeks.

Students can obtain a “return-to-school code” through a mini-program embedded in the multi-purpose app WeChat, allowing them to report body temperature and other health readings daily. The mini-program then gives them a color-based QR code on their smartphones that shows how healthy they are, Tencent said in a Friday statement.

The health information will be shared with WeChat Work, a business communication and office collaboration platform, which education officials and school teachers can then use to track the health status of their students, the statement said.

The return-to-school code resembles Tencent’s health code system, which was rolled out last month and allows users to obtain a log of their physical status by scanning QR codes embedded in WeChat. The service, which covers more than 300 Chinese cities and counties, has attracted 8 billion visits since early February, according to Tencent’s president Martin Lau. Alibaba’s Alipay also has a similar health code service.

The Chinese government ordered schools to shut at the end of January when the epidemic spread rapidly across the country. While some schools in less-affected provinces like Qinghai reopened to students in early March, big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have yet to announce their schools’ reopening dates.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: Virus Outbreak Sparked WeChat Traffic Surge, Tencent President Says


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By Ding Yi / Mar 23, 2020 12:45 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Hundreds of Chinese cinemas have reopened as new coronavirus cases across the mainland edge closer to zero.

As of March 21, a total of 507 cinemas across China had reopened to moviegoers, representing 4.5% of the total cinemas operating in the country, according to statistics released by ticketing agency Maoyan. The reopened cinemas currently have a temporary plan of just screening previous box-office hits.

The initial movies chosen include the 2017 action film “Wolf Warrior 2”; the 2019 sci-fi title “The Wandering Earth”; “Wolf Totem,” a 2015 drama film based on a 2004 Chinese semi-autobiographical novel of the same name; “American Dreams in China,” a 2013 Chinese movie that was shown at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival; and “Capernaum,” a 2018 Lebanese drama film that won the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.

On March 21, some 29 reopened cinemas in Xinjiang sold 25,100 yuan ($3,523) worth of tickets, accounting for about 80% of the country’s total box office revenue that day. That was followed by Inner Mongolia with 2,746 yuan worth of ticket sales, Sichuan with 2,108 yuan, Qinghai with 938 yuan and Guangdong with 55 yuan, Maoyan said.

Other provinces where cinemas have reopened include Henan and Fujian, Maoyan said.

According to a survey of the general public by Maoyan, nearly 70% of respondents considered going to the cinema as their top choice for entertainment once the epidemic ends, while about 30% said that they would return to cinemas as soon as they restart businesses.

China has suspended cinema operations to avoid public gatherings since the end of January as part of nationwide efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

However, the shutdowns have helped create a new trend of watching films online. “Lost in Russia,” which was set for theatrical release on the first day of the Lunar New Year on Jan. 25, was instead streamed over ByteDance-owned platforms the same day and was made free to audiences, proving to be a big hit. The decision to premiere the film online drew criticism from Chinese movie companies, with some claiming that it harmed the Chinese cinema industry’s interests.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: Movies Premiere Online as Coronavirus Shuts Theaters


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By Isabelle Li and Ye Zhanqi / Mar 12, 2020 03:35 PM / Society & Culture

When human capacities fall short, can robots take the strain?

The Covid-19 outbreak has provided an unexpected chance to explore that question. Hundreds of hospitals and makeshift quarantine stations in Hubei, Guangdong and Beijing have deployed robots in various tasks — delivering meals and pills to isolated patients, testing their temperatures, disinfecting rooms, or even cooking dishes for medics after an exhausting shift.

Recent months have given the robotics industry and its latest technologies an unprecedented opportunity to showcase recent advances. As shortages of medical workers became apparent in certain virus-hit areas and direct human contact needed to be limited, machine intelligence filled in, taking over relatively fixed and repetitive tasks. The use of robots in these tasks also helped save protective gears.

Robots were not able to avoid quarantine issues completely however as robot makers found themselves constrained by local quarantine policies in many cities after they sent staffers over to hospitals to help plan how to best use the robots. Also there are issues around the factories producing the robots. Due to the virus they have experienced problems of resuming production capacity to meet demand due to difficulties in the workforce resumption, component supply, and logistics.

As China witnesses the epidemic waning at home but growing abroad, robotics companies realize that the new virus may create long term markets and have set their eyes on the opportunities created by the crisis for future business.

Read the in-depth story in full on Caixin Global later today.

Contact reporter Isabelle Li (liyi@caixi.com)


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By Ding Yi / Mar 09, 2020 03:36 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

The founders of two of China’s biggest unicorns were among the world’s top three young billionaires in 2019, according to a report which measured the wealth of 53 billionaires aged 40 and under from nine countries.

Huang Zheng, the 40-year-old founder of e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo, grew his fortune by 20% to $18 billion in 2019, claiming the second spot on the list. Zhang Yiming, the 37-year-old founder of TikTok owner ByteDance, came in third with a net worth of $13.8 billion, though his wealth was down by 1% from the previous year, according to Hurun Global 40 & Under Self-Made Billionaires 2020, which was published Monday. The wealth calculations were as of Jan. 31.

However, Huang and Zhang lagged far behind Facebook’s 35-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, who took the crown with $84 billion, up $4 billion from a year ago, the report said.

Zhang Bangxin, 39, founder of New York-listed education service provider TAL, climbed five places to become the world’s sixth richest young entrepreneur with a net worth of $10.4 billion, as the Covid-19 outbreak drove demand for online education. Shenzhen-based commercial drone maker DJI’s 40-year-old founder, Wang Tao, ranked ninth with a fortune of $6.8 billion, according to the report.

The list saw18 new faces, eight of whom were from China including Kuaishou’s Cheng Yixiao, Meituan-Dianping’s Mu Rongjun and OKCoin’s Xu Mingxing. That was three times the number the United States had.

According to the report, the e-commerce industry produced the highest number with eight billionaires, followed by the social media sector with seven billionaires.

Overall, a total of 19 young Chinese billionaires made it onto the list, one less than the United States. Others were scattered across India, Australia, Singapore, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Russia.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (dingyi@caixin.com)

Related: China Has More Billionaires Than U.S. And India Combined: Hurun Report


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By Ding Yi / Feb 18, 2020 01:37 PM / Society & Culture

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Alibaba-owned payment platform Alipay will launch a national health code system this week to assess people’s physical status amid government calls for tech firms to contribute to the battle against the Covid-19 epidemic in China, the company said in a WeChat post.

The system was initially rolled out last week in Hangzhou, the capital of eastern China’s Zhejiang province, where residents are now asked to fill out an online form reporting their ID number, travel history and various health conditions before getting a color-based code.

People with a red code are subject to a 14-day quarantine and should provide regular check-in via DingTalk, a workplace chat app also developed by Alibaba, while those with a yellow code are quarantined for a week. A green code means people can move freely around the city.

Currently, Hangzhou residents need to have their health status scanned via a QR code when entering public places including residential communities, office buildings, supermarkets and travel checkpoints. As of Monday, Hangzhou has issued more than 7.25 million health codes including 6.7 million green codes.

Tencent has also developed a similar QR code tracking platform, which the tech giant said is currently being used in the southern city of Shenzhen and will soon be deployed in more cities in Guangdong province.

During a press conference last week, Chen Yueliang, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, encouraged Chinese tech giants including Alibaba and Tencent to develop software to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus within residential communities.

Contact reporter Ding Yi (yiding@caixin.com)

Related: Genome Giant BGI Gets Regulator Approval to Sell Coronavirus Test Kits


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By Dave Yin / Feb 08, 2020 03:40 AM / Society & Culture

The pangolin, a scaly mammalian anteater, is the latest animal to be identified as an intermediate host of the novel coronavirus that has sickened more than 31,000 people worldwide.

According to local media reports, an analysis of genome sequences of viruses isolated from pangolins were a 99% match with those of 2019-nCoV, as the coronavirus behind the epidemic is known. Pangolins are a trafficked, critically endangered species whose scales are believed by some to have medicinal properties.

Scientists at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province in southern China, reported findings Friday from research conducted jointly with the People's Liberation Army Academy of Military Science in Beijing and the research department of the Guangdong Zoo.

“This has major significance for the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus,” South China Agricultural said in a statement, though it did not elaborate on the research.

While there is general consensus among scientists that the new strain of coronavirus spread from bats to another host before making the jump to humans, previous research pointing to snakes as the culprit has been disputed.

Contact reporter Dave Yin (davidyin@caixin.com)

Related: Scientists Dispute Whether Snakes Are Source of Coronavirus In Humans

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By Denise Jia / Jan 24, 2020 06:56 AM / Society & Culture

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A quickly spreading coronavirus in China that has sickened hundreds of people and caused 17 deaths has not yet reached a level that would make it a global public health emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.

The Emergency Committee of the United Nations’ WHO announced the decision after a two-day teleconference of members and advisers in Geneva. Committee members agreed on the urgency of the situation and suggested another meeting within days to examine the situation further.

"Make no mistake, this is an emergency in China," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "But it is not yet a global health emergency."

Didier Houssin, the chair of the emergency advisory committee, said the panel was split "almost 50-50" over whether the outbreak of the coronavirus in China amounted to a global public health emergency.

The decision was made based on several critical elements, including that the source of the virus is still unknown and that the extent of human-to-human transmission is still not clear, the committee said.

The UN health agency said it’s expected that more cases may appear in any country, but for the moment, the WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade.

Cases of the illness have been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

The WHO defines a global emergency as an "extraordinary event" that poses a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response. Previous global emergencies have been declared for the Zika outbreak in the Americas in 2015 and the swine flu pandemic in 2009.

Follow Caixin Global’s latest updates on the coronavirus here.

Contact reporter Denise Jia (huijuanjia@caixin.com)

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By Jia Tianqiong, Bao Zhiming, Bai Yujie and Denise Jia / Jan 24, 2020 06:01 AM / Society & Culture

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China’s airline regulator expanded its free cancellation policy to include all domestic flights, not limited to those into and out of Wuhan, where a quickly spreading pneumonia-causing virus has killed 17 and led to quarantine of the city.

At 9:30 p.m. Thursday local time, the Civil Aviation Administration of China issued a notice instructing airlines and ticket agents to offer passengers who have booked any domestic flights free cancellations if requested. Previously the free cancellation policy applied only to flights departing, arriving and transferring at Wuhan.

The Wuhan airport shut down all departing runways as of 10 a.m. Thursday as part of the quarantine that has closed the city’s train stations and public transportation. Multiple airlines have canceled flights into and out of Wuhan as far out as Feb. 29.

The airport closure, announced at 2 a.m. Thursday, has caused challenges to carriers that operate flights transferring at Wuhan, leaving them a very short time to adjust schedules. Some airlines changed transferring flights to direct flights to final destinations.

China Eastern Airlines canceled the second part of a Thursday flight from Huai’an in Jiangsu province transferring at Wuhan to Chengdu in Sichuan after the airplane landed in Wuhan, leaving 23 passengers stranded. The airline eventually put the passengers on another flight to Chongqing, a city about 200 miles from Chengdu.

As of 10 p.m. Thursday, Air China canceled 28 Wuhan-related flights, China Eastern Airlines 78 and China Southern Airlines 108. Spring Airlines canceled all flights between Wuhan and Osaka till Jan. 28; Shenzhen Airlines, all Wuhan-related flights until Feb. 10; and Cathay Dragon airline, all Wuhan-related flights till Feb. 29.

Contact reporter Denise Jia (huijuanjia@caixin.com)

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By Dave Yin / Jan 23, 2020 06:30 PM / Society & Culture

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Scientists affiliated with UK-based universities have disputed a widely-circulated study pointing to snakes as the source of China’s deadly new coronavirus, saying that bats are more likely to be the real culprit.

A study published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Virology had compared the novel virus’ genes to that of other pathogens from various geographic locations and host species. It concluded that while the virus, dubbed “2019-nCoV” by the World Health Organization, was a combination of coronaviruses found in bats and other “unknown” origins, it resided in snakes prior to making the jump to humans.

“Results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV,” wrote the study’s authors, hailing from Peking University, Guangxi University of Chinese Medicine, Ningbo University and the Wuhan University of Bioengineering.

However, scientists at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) and the Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University disputed the findings.

Citing recombination analysis, which create visual depictions of similarities between various genetic sequences, the researchers argued in a Thursday post on a medical discussion forum that 2019-nCoV is most closely related to several viruses originating from bats.

“There is no evidence of snakes being involved, although, given the propensity of coronaviruses to switch hosts, involvement of another species cannot be discounted,” wrote David L Robertson, head of CVR bioinformatics. “There is also a very good chance that a non-bat intermediate species is responsible for the beginning of the current outbreak in Wuhan.”

Coronaviruses are a category of pathogens that caused the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that emerged in 2002 and also include far less lethal viruses such as some forms of the common cold.

The study identifying snakes as the possible source also noted that those who were first infected with the 2019-nCoV virus were exposed to wildlife animals at a now-shuttered wholesale market in Wuhan, Central China’s Hubei province, where seafood, poultry, snake, bats, and farm animals were sold.

On Wednesday, Chinese biology and conservation experts called on (link in Chinese) law enforcement agencies in charge of wildlife protection to step up their duties in preventing the trade and consumption of wild game.

As of Thursday, Chinese officials said (link in Chinese) 617 people had fallen sick from the virus while 17 had died. Wuhan has imposed a massive quarantine of the entire city of 11 million, suspending all bus, subway, ferry and long-distance transport systems as of 10 a.m., and have asked residents to remain in the city.

Since its discovery in December, the disease, akin to pneumonia, has spread to regions including Thailand, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., and Singapore. Doctors at several major local hospitals in Wuhan told Caixin that it is estimated that the number of people infected with the epidemic may exceed 6,000.

Follow Caixin Global’s latest updates on the coronavirus here.

Contact reporter Dave Yin (davidyin@caixin.com)

Related: Wuhan Suspends Public Transit System Amid Virus Fears

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By Matthew Walsh and Han Wei / Jan 21, 2020 09:48 AM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

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China has confirmed that the mysterious SARS-linked virus that has infected hundreds of people across the country can spread via human-to-human transmission.

Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese epidemiologist who is heading the National Health Commission’s investigation into the outbreak, told state broadcaster CCTV in an interview Monday evening that the previously unknown coronavirus “definitely spreads between people.”

Human-to-human transmission has been identified in the central city of Wuhan, which remains at the heart of the investigation, and the southern province of Guangdong, which announced 14 cases of infection yesterday, Zhong said.

Fifteen medical workers in Wuhan have been diagnosed with the virus and one further case is suspected, the city’s health commission has said.

The commission also confirmed Tuesday that another person had died from illness caused by the virus. The patient, an 89-year-old man surnamed Chen, had a number of underlying health issues, the commission said.

As of Monday night, China had recorded 217 cases of the virus. Chen is the fourth person to die from the pneumonia-like disease since the outbreak erupted in December.

Follow Caixin Global’s latest updates on the coronavirus here.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh (matthewwalsh@caixin.com)

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By Matthew Walsh / Jan 09, 2020 12:35 PM / Society & Culture

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The cause of a mysterious lung disease that since December has afflicted more than 50 people in the central Chinese city of Wuhan seems to be a virus in the same family as those that caused the deadly SARS and MERS outbreaks, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported Thursday, citing official preliminary test results.

The report comes after the World Health Organization said Wednesday that Chinese authorities suspected the spate of pneumonia cases could be due to an emerging type of coronavirus — a family of viruses that cause a number of respiratory ailments of varying severity — but that more information was required before the cause could be confirmed.

The pneumonia outbreak, which began in Wuhan last month and had infected 59 people as of Sunday morning, had triggered fears of an epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) akin to the one that killed hundreds of people in China in 2002 and 2003. Municipal health authorities investigating the current outbreak have since ruled out SARS and a number of other deadly respiratory diseases like Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and bird flu.

No deaths due to the emerging form of pneumonia have so far been reported. As of Sunday, seven patients were in a serious condition and the rest were stable, the municipal health commission said. Eight people were discharged from hospital yesterday after displaying no fever or other pneumonia symptoms for several days, the CCTV report said, citing the commission.

Read the full report on Caixin Global later today.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh (matthewwalsh@caixin.com)

Related: Outbreak of Mysterious Lung Disease Sparks SARS Rumors


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