The spread of the coronavirus outbreak has widened with more European nations hit and the number of infections in South Korea surging to more than 1,100, while China has reported another drop in cases, with 406 new daily infections, as of Tuesday.
China’s National Health Commission said there were also 52 new deaths, all of them in Hubei, the central Chinese province at the heart of the outbreak. This compared with 508 new cases – a fall of 102 – and 71 deaths a day earlier.
There were only five new infections outside Hubei. So far, 29,745 patients on mainland China have recovered from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
South Korea cases exceed 1,100
South Korea reported 284 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections there to 1,261.
Many of the confirmed cases came from two clusters of infections – linked to a religious sect in the southeastern city of Daegu and a hospital in the neighbouring county of Cheongdo, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Of the 169 new cases reported in the morning, 153 are in Daegu, 300km southeast of Seoul, and neighbouring North Gyeongsang province, but nearly all major provinces and cities have reported some infections, including four cases in the capital Seoul, according to the Korea Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). A further 115 cases were reported in the afternoon.
Busan, South Korea's second-largest city, reported eight new cases and Gyeonggi province reported one new case on Wednesday morning, the KCDC said. So far, 11 people have died in South Korea from the virus, including a 36-year-old Mongolian national who was hospitalised for a liver transplant.
Meanwhile, an American soldier stationed at Camp Carroll in South Korea has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a US Forces Korea (USFK) statement. The 23-year-old man is the first US service member to test positive for the virus, and is currently in self quarantine at his off-base residence.
First child case in Hong Kong
A 16-year-old boy from the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruise ship has become the first child in Hong Kong to be diagnosed with the coronavirus.
The teenager was one of four patients confirmed to be infected with Covid-19 on Wednesday, the Centre for Health Protection said in a press conference, taking the city’s official total to 89.
His 21-year-old sister, who was also on the Diamond Princess quarantined off Japan’s coast earlier this month, has given positive readings as well.
China says Wall Street Journal ‘admits mistakes’
China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that The Wall Street Journal had “admitted its mistakes” over the headline of an opinion piece about the coronavirus, which Beijing gave as its reason for expelling three of its correspondents from the country.
At its daily press conference, a foreign ministry spokesperson went on to say it “could not help but ask” whether the newspaper was an agent for the US government.
Beijing slammed the February 3 headline – “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” on the newspaper's commentary piece by US academic Walter Russel Mead – as racist and revoked the credentials of three of its correspondents, in an unprecedented move that was condemned by Washington.
Hu Xijin, editor of the state-run tabloid Global Times, posted to Twitter late on Tuesday that sources told him senior executives of the Journal had written a second letter to the Chinese side. “They've recognised the harm and fury caused by a commentary published by the newspaper previously and they're uncomfortable about it. It seems the WSJ doesn't want the issue to expand,” he wrote.
Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, declined to comment on whether a second letter had been sent. An internal letter calling for the newspaper’s leadership to apologise for the “derogatory” headline was signed by 53 reporters and editors.
China's new focus – stop infections from abroad
China's containment strategy is shifting to an effort to stop the coronavirus from being imported back into the country as the outbreak surges abroad.
On Tuesday, 94 passengers aboard Asiana Airlines flight OZ349 from Seoul to Nanjing were quarantined after three Chinese nationals were found to have fevers. None of the three passengers had a travel history to Wuhan.
In Beijing, a meeting chaired by the city party chief Cai Qi, called for more stringent measures to stop infections being imported to the capital.
“Pay close attention to the risk of overseas epidemics, strictly enforce health entry requirements, and properly implement epidemic prevention services for foreigners in Beijing,” the meeting stressed.
All people entering Beijing, including those coming from other Chinese cities, face a 14 day quarantine period, the meeting said.
Singapore charges two with lying about travel history
Singapore has charged two Chinese nationals, one of whom was infected with Covid-19, for giving false information about their travel history.
Hu Jun, a 38 year-old from Wuhan, and his wife Shi Sha, a 36-year-old resident of Singapore, are accused of giving false information to officials about their movements and whereabouts between January 22 and 29.
Hu arrived in Singapore on January 22 and was tested positive on January 31. He has fully recovered from infection and had been discharged on February 19, the country’s health ministry said.
Chinese medical staff request global help
Two medical workers in Wuhan have pleaded for more international help, describing conditions in the coronavirus-hit city as “more difficult and extreme than we could ever have imagined”.
The two, who have been in Wuhan since late January, are from the southern province of Guangdong and were among the thousands of medical staff who answered the call for help when the outbreak was at its height.
“Due to an extreme shortage of health care professionals in Wuhan, 14,000 nurses from across China have voluntarily come to Wuhan to support local medical health care professionals. But we need much more help,” said Yingchun Zeng and Yan Zhen, in a letter published in The Lancet on February 24.
“We are asking nurses and medical staff from countries around the world to come to China now, to help us in this battle”.
They added there was a severe shortage of protective equipment, such as N95 masks, and some nurses had pressure ulcers on their foreheads after wearing masks for extended periods of times.
“Often, nurses' mouths are covered in blisters. Some nurses have fainted due to hypoglycaemia and hypoxia,” they wrote.
Europe is also worrying
The situation facing Europe is getting more serious, with Austria, Croatia, Switzerland and Romania becoming the latest European nations to confirm cases of coronavirus. Austria has two cases. Switzerland, Croatia and Romania have one each.
Italian authorities updated their death toll to 11. Four additional deaths were reported in Italy on Tuesday. In Spain, the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife – where an Italian man who has tested positive for the virus was staying – has been locked down.
Iran’s deputy health minister infected
Iran has the highest number of deaths outside China, with 16 people killed by the coronavirus.
Iran’s deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi, who was seen coughing during an interview on state TV, has tested positive for the coronavirus.
A group of Canada-based public health experts, including Ashleigh Tuite from the University of Toronto, said a large epidemic in Iran – could further fuel global dissemination of Covid-19. Between February 19 and 23, Iran reported its first 43 cases with eight deaths.
Assessing interconnectivity between Iran and other countries using International Air Transport Association (IATA) data, the experts estimated that 18,300 Covid-19 cases would have had to occur in Iran.
“It is likely that Iran is currently experiencing a Covid-19 epidemic of significant size for such exportations to be occurring. This is concerning, both for public health in Iran itself, and because of the high likelihood for outward dissemination of the epidemic to neighbouring countries with lower capacity to respond to infectious diseases epidemics,” the experts said in the paper, which has not been peer reviewed.
First case in Algeria
Algeria has confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, its health ministry said, becoming the second African country to report the virus.
Algeria’s health minister Abderrahmane Benbouzid announced on state television on Tuesday evening that an Italian national who arrived in the North African country on February 17 had tested positive for the virus. Benbouzid said the patient was in quarantine and receiving treatment.
Algeria becomes the second country in northern Africa to report coronavirus infection. Egypt reported its first case – and the first on the continent – earlier this month.
The World Health Organisation said it was preparing to deploy a team of experts to Algeria to support health authorities.
Brazilian man tested
South America could be facing its first case with a report from Brazil’s health ministry on Tuesday that a Sao Paulo resident who recently travelled to Italy was being tested for the coronavirus.
The 61 year-old man was working in Lombardy – one of two northern Italian regions at the centre of the outbreak in Europe – from February 9 to 21.
The preliminary test is being validated at the Adolfo Lutz Institute, the ministry said in a statement on its website.
Clinical trials begin in US
The first clinical trial in the US of a possible coronavirus treatment is underway in Nebraska and is eventually expected to include 400 patients at 50 locations around the world, officials said on Tuesday.
Half of the patients in the international study will receive the antiviral medicine Remdesivir, while the other half will receive a placebo. Several other studies, including one looking at the same drug, are already underway internationally.
Dr Andre Kalil, who will oversee the study at the University of Nebraska Medical Centre, said the clinical trial had been developed quickly in response to the virus outbreak. Patients hospitalised with the Covid-19 would be eligible to join the trial if they had at least moderate symptoms, he said.
A group of 14 people who were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan are being treated at the Nebraska centre. All except two of this group have tested positive for the disease.
At least two patient studies are under way in China, one of which involves Remdesivir, which is made by Gilead Sciences and has been described by the World Health Organisation as “the most promising candidate” for an effective treatment against Covid-19.
Taiwan suspends presidential inauguration
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday suspended all preparations for her inauguration ceremony in May, so that relevant organisations could concentrate on responding to the coronavirus outbreak.
“As long as there is concern about the outbreak, no large-scale activities marking the presidential inauguration on May 20 will be held,” said Tsai, who was re-elected for a second term as president in January.
On Wednesday, all of Taiwan’s doctors and nurses were barred from visiting countries declared to be unfit destinations because of the outbreak, to ensure there was adequate manpower to tackle the disease.
Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Centre said the ban, effective immediately, would be in place until the end of June. Medical staff will also need permission from the hospital authorities to visit countries which Taipei has said require extra precautions while travelling.
The centre also urged local religious groups to temporarily suspend large-scale religious activities to prevent the community spread of the coronavirus, as experienced in South Korea.
On Wednesday, Taiwan confirmed a new case, bringing its total number of infections to 32. A foreign carer was looking after an 80-year-old man in New Taipei City who tested positive for Covid-19. The carer has now also been diagnosed with the disease.
Dirty money order issued in China
China has told lenders to disinfect and store banknotes in a dry area for seven days, as part of the battle to contain the contagious coronavirus, a Chinese newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The guidelines on how banks can help reduce the transmission of the virus were circulated by the Beijing branch of China’s banking and insurance regulator (CBIRC), according to China Securities Journal. The report did not say how the notes would be cleaned.
It went on to say that the CBIRC had advised banks to increase how often they disinfected public surfaces, such as counters and password entry devices. Disinfection supplies should also be provided at counters and other places where customers came into contact with cash.
Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters
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