Coronavirus Live Updates: In Hubei Province, Infections Skyrocket to Nearly 50,000


China’s ruling Communist Party fired the leaders of the province and the city at the center of the new coronavirus outbreak on Thursday amid widespread public anger over the handling of the epidemic.

Jiang Chaoliang, the party secretary of Hubei Province, is the highest-ranking official to lose his job over the handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 1,300 people in recent weeks.

After the outbreak first emerged in Wuhan the leadership came under intense scrutiny for playing down the virus and delaying reports of its spread. The province then took drastic measures that included imposing a lockdown not only on Wuhan but also on tens of millions of people in surrounding areas.

For hospitals in Wuhan, already overwhelmed with patients, that cordon worsened a shortage of medical supplies that has continued.

Mr. Jiang will be replaced by Ying Yong, the mayor of Shanghai. The selection of Mr. Ying may underline the continued political control of Xi Jinping, China’s top leader. Before being transferred to Shanghai in a fairly senior role in 2008, Mr. Ying had come up through the political ranks in Zhejiang Province, which is Mr. Xi’s political base as well.

The party also ousted Ma Guoqiang, the top official in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, and replaced him with Wang Zhonglin, formerly the party secretary of the eastern city of Jinan.

The number of people confirmed to have the coronavirus in Hubei Province, the center of the outbreak, skyrocketed by 14,840 cases to 48,206, the government said on Thursday, setting a new daily record, after the authorities changed the diagnostic criteria for counting new cases.

The number of deaths in the province on Wednesday jumped by 242 to a total of 1,310, more than doubling the previous daily record of 103 set on Monday.

Nationally, those figures propelled the total number of coronavirus cases in China to 59,805 and the death toll to 1,367.

The sudden uptick is a result of the government including cases diagnosed in clinical settings, including with the use of CT scans, along with those confirmed with specialized testing kits.

Health experts said the change in reporting is meant to provide a more accurate view of the transmissibility of the virus. The new criteria is intended to give doctors broader discretion to diagnose patients, and more crucially, isolate patients to quickly treat them.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

Previously, infections were confirmed only with a positive result from a nucleic acid test. But a government expert said the tests were only about 30 to 40 percent accurate. There is also a shortage of testing kits in the provinces and the turnaround time for the results of these tests takes at least two days.

Because hospitals were overstretched and lacked testing kits, many infected patients were told to go home rather than be isolated and undergo treatment.

The sudden change in the accounting has caused epidemiologists to warn that the true picture of the epidemic is muddled. Accurately tracking cases tells experts the number, location and speed at which new infections are occurring.

Many patients, displaying symptoms of the coronavirus, have long complained that they have had to wait days, and even weeks, to be tested and receive treatment. Others, including the recently deceased whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang, said they had to be tested four or five times before the tests showed a positive result.

The huge jump in new cases puts extra pressure on the government to treat thousands of patients, many of whom are in mass quarantine centers or in isolation facilities.

Taiwan will extend a ban on exports of face masks through April, the government said on Thursday. The move comes as governments and institutions around the world are scrambling to ensure adequate supplies of masks for medical workers and other vulnerable groups.

The country had imposed a monthlong prohibition on mask exports on Jan. 24, a move that was condemned by the Chinese state media and online commentators.

Taiwanese companies produce about a fifth of the world’s face masks, while Taiwan itself only has 0.3 percent of the world’s population, and the apparent mismatch has fed the criticism.

“Little Taiwan lacks conscience — it takes the benefit when the mainland gives it and if we have a problem, they walk away,” one user wrote last week on Chinese social media, referring to mainland China.

But officials in Taiwan, a self-governed democracy that denies Beijing’s claims to sovereignty over the island, say it still has a problem: its manufacturers produce most of their masks in factories in mainland China, not in Taiwan. Those masks are now being requisitioned by the local authorities in China for use in high-risk settings.

According to data from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, 53 percent of masks used in Taiwan last year were produced domestically, and the rest were imported, mostly from mainland China. Demand has soared faster than production so far this year.

Taiwan already has a form of mask rationing, with each citizen permitted to buy two surgical masks a week. Health cards with computer chips are used by pharmacies across the island to control purchases.

As Japan announced 44 new coronavirus cases on a cruise ship quarantined in the waters off Yokohama, bringing the total to 218, the country’s health minister said on Thursday that the authorities would begin allowing some passengers to disembark and serve out the remainder of the quarantine period on shore.

The minister, Katsunobu Kato, said that, if they first test negative for the virus, passengers 80 or older who have existing medical conditions or were assigned to cabins without windows or balconies would be taken to facilities for confinement until the quarantine is scheduled to end on Feb. 19. Those who test positive will be taken to hospitals.

Of the newly confirmed cases, Mr. Kato said, 43 were passengers and one was a crew member.

The cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, arrived in Yokohama on Feb. 3, and passengers were expecting to go home the next day. But after learning that a man who got off the ship in Hong Kong had tested positive for the coronavirus, the Japanese government quarantined all 3,700 passengers and crew members on board. The quarantine period is scheduled to last for two weeks.

Separately, the Cambodian government said on Wednesday it would allow another cruise ship, the Westerdam, to dock in Sihanoukville. The ship had been denied permission to stop in Japan, Guam, Taiwan and the Philippines, despite having no diagnoses of coronavirus.

About 740 South Korean soldiers were under quarantine on Thursday as the country’s military tried to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus among its ranks.

South Korea keeps a 600,000-strong army, largely filled with conscripts, as a bulwark against the threat from North Korea. Most of these soldiers live in communal barracks. After the outbreak in China, South Korea moved quickly to prevent the virus from infiltrating its military and undermining its readiness.

So far, no South Korean soldier has tested positive. The rest of the country has reported 28 confirmed cases, and no deaths. South Korea has reported no new cases in the past two days. North Korea has said it was also taking measures against the virus but has not released any official figures.

The quarantined soldiers included those who have visited mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau in recent weeks or those who have been in close contact with relatives or others who have been to China or tested positive for the virus.

Mist cannons and water sprinkler trucks have been deployed to clean the streets of Wuhan, China, but experts said the effectiveness of such measures may be limited in preventing the spread of the illness.

Since Sunday, workers in Wuhan have been sanitizing public areas twice a day in an effort to disinfect the city. Public toilets as well as garbage disposal sites and transfer stations are sprayed at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to the local government’s official Weibo page, China’s Twitter-like platform. Workers will spray disinfectant onto the main roads, hospitals and around various isolation quarters as well, it added.

Video footage shared by Chinese state media showed parades of trucks and workers in protective suits spraying large, white plumes of mist into the air and onto the streets of Wuhan. The city government said that by Tuesday a total of 21,130 liters of disinfectant and 720 liters of toilet cleaning products had already been used.

“I think it could help to reduce environmental contamination with coronavirus, but we have not yet seen evidence that coronavirus has been spreading through the environment,” said Benjamin Cowling, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong.

“Our current understanding is that most transmission occurs via prolonged close contact with infected persons,” he added.

Officials in the southwestern province of Yunnan announced a plan to require residents to scan a QR-like code on their phones to enter public places as part of their effort to stop the virus’s spread.

The new program will “allow big data to become the ‘piercing eyes’ of epidemic prevention and control,” the Yunnan government said in a statement on Wednesday.

The program has already begun in the county of Luliang, and more than 5,600 scans have been performed at hundreds of venues, the statement said. In the next 12 days, it will be implemented across a broad variety of public venues, including medical facilities, hotels, malls, supermarkets, transport checkpoints, remote villages and farmers’ markets.

Residents who refuse to scan their codes could be barred entry or exit, and those who try to force their way through could face legal consequences, People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party newspaper, said on the social platform Weibo.

Photographs shared on Wednesday by a party-run newspaper in the city of Lijiang in Yunnan showed sheets of paper emblazoned with the codes, labeled “enter” and “exit,” plastered across walls and counters.

Video of medical workers from the Xinjiang region dancing with patients at a coronavirus hospital in Wuhan have prompted scrutiny of their roles helping with the outbreak.

A team of 142 medical professionals from Xinjiang traveled to Wuhan on Jan. 28 to help treat people infected with the virus, and at least two more teams have since followed.

As more people in Wuhan have been placed into mass quarantine, a number of videos have emerged showing the Xinjiang workers leading healthier patients in dance routines to get some exercise and ease boredom.

One of the leaders of the Xinjiang team told the state-run Xinhua news service that a patient asked her to lead a dance. The leader, Bahaguli Tuolehui, seen in the video below, said she chose a Kazakh dance, the Kara Jorga. The patients “have done square dances before in the hospital,” she said. “I felt a Xinjiang dance would be pretty good, too.”

But to some Uighurs outside of China, the videos were a reminder of the simplistic way Turkic minorities can be depicted inside the country, even in a time of emergency.

“That’s what China strives to achieve: not only to portray but also to force the entire Uyghur nation to become nothing but singers, dancers and menial workers,” Kamalturk Yalqun, a Uighur living in Philadelphia, wrote on Twitter.

China has put a million or more Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominately Muslim groups into indoctrination camps in Xinjiang, part of a campaign to enforce loyalty while eroding minority languages, religions and cultures.

Former inmates have described harsh conditions in detention, stirring concern that the spread of the virus within Xinjiang could prove dire in the camps. Xinjiang has thus far reported 55 cases of infections.

Reporting and research was contributed by Gillian Wong, Chris Buckley, Sui-Lee Wee, Steven Lee Myers, Keith Bradsher, Austin Ramzy, Choe Sang-Hun, Amber Wang, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Yiwei Wang, Claire Fu, Amy Qin, Elaine Yu and Tariro Mzezewai.


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