Coronavirus: 3 Wuhan officials summoned to explain failings as China death toll reaches 1,018

Cissy Zhou

Health authorities in mainland China on Tuesday reported 108 new fatalities from the coronavirus, taking the national death toll to 1,018.

The figures, for Monday, marked the first time more than 100 people had died from the disease in a single day. The country’s National Health Commission also reported 2,478 new confirmed cases of the illness, which brought that total to 42,638 as of Monday.

Of the new deaths, 103 were in Hubei province – the epicentre of the outbreak – and five were in other provinces. The virus has also spread to at least 24 countries.

Task force calls in trio

A special task force reviewing prevention efforts in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, has summoned three local officials for emergency meetings and detailed their failings in containing the outbreak.

Wuhan deputy mayor Chen Xiexing and two district chiefs in the city, Lin Wenshu and Yu Song, were called in for meetings, state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

Officials found to have been negligent would be held accountable, the report said.

Headed by Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan, the task force was set up by the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Mainland media reported on Friday that Chen Yixin, a protégé of President Xi Jinping, had been added to the team.

‘83 per cent of clusters were in families’

China has had nearly 1,000 cluster outbreaks of the coronavirus and found that 83 per cent occurred in families, with the rest arising in hospitals, schools and shopping malls, said Wu Zunyou, chief scientist of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, at a media briefing on Tuesday.

Among the cluster cases, 86 per cent were first or second-generation transmissions – people who lived or travelled in Hubei, contracted the virus and passed it to people who were in close contact with them, such as family members or people who shared meals with them.

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“Occurrences of these cluster cases showed our control and treatment measures have been effective and it did not spread from small units to bigger areas of society,” Wu said.

Containment ‘must not harm business’

As millions of people in China prepared to return to work, Beijing has said the reopening of businesses should not be hampered by “crude and oversimplified” restrictions.

Up to 160 million people were expected to be returning to their cities of employment over the coming week, according to Xu Yahua, a Chinese ministry of transport official.

The coronavirus outbreak coincided with the Lunar New Year travel season, when millions traditionally travel to spend the holiday with their families. As part of China’s response to the outbreak, the holiday season was extended until February 18, while the authorities have partially locked down more than 80 cities, closing public transport and restricting people’s movements.

Some local governments have required companies to register and gain approval before resuming production, with business owners being detained for resuming without permission – but Beijing indicated on Tuesday that this went further than the central authorities had intended.

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“Such a tendency must be stopped,” Ou Xiaoli, a director of top economic planning agency the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a press conference. “We will strictly stop restricting resumption of production in this oversimplified and crude way.”

Hubei has 2,097 new cases

Earlier on Tuesday, Hubei’s provincial health authority reported 2,097 new confirmed cases for Monday, bringing its total to 24,953.

While the number of new cases in Hubei dropped from a day earlier, the number of new deaths there continued to rise. The province had reported 2,618 new cases and 91 deaths on Sunday.

Some 1,552 of the new cases announced on Tuesday were in Hubei’s capital of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated at a seafood and meat market.

First case among US evacuees

A first confirmed case has been reported among the hundreds of people who were evacuated from China to military bases around the United States, it was reported on Monday.

The infection was found in one of four evacuees with symptoms who had been in hospital isolation before testing negative on Sunday and rejoining more than 200 people under a 14-day quarantine in San Diego, California, US health officials said.

One of the four had tested positive in further checks on Monday and returned to hospital isolation, according to a statement by San Diego officials. It was California’s seventh confirmed case of coronavirus, and the US’ 13th.

Another evacuee in San Diego was also admitted to hospital for evaluation on Monday afternoon, according to the statement. “Both patients are doing well and have minimal symptoms,” it said.

World Bank ‘not considering’ new China loans

The World Bank is offering technical help to China to help battle the coronavirus, but no new loans, the development lender’s president David Malpass said on Monday.

Malpass told Reuters the bank was working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to assist China, including offering advice about past health crises, but did not plan any financial help because the country had ample resources.

China “has its own large international reserves” and new loans were not being considered, Malpass said, adding that World Bank experts were in discussions with Chinese authorities and could provide immediate help on disease surveillance, food safety, lessons from previous pandemics and analysis of the outbreak’s impact on China’s economy.

Former WHO official says questions over coronavirus response can wait

The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) said this week it had been in discussions with the Chinese government to strengthen the country’s emergency public health infrastructure. “Subject to the approval of its board of directors, AIIB stands ready to support China through public health infrastructure loans,” it said.

Trump expects coronavirus to ‘disappear’ in April

US President Donald Trump said on Monday he expected the coronavirus outbreak to disappear in April.

“The virus … typically that will go away in April,” he told reporters at the White House.

“[I] had a long talk with President Xi … two nights ago,” Trump said. “He feels very confident … [that] during the month of April, the heat, generally speaking, kills this type of virus. That would be a good thing.”

WHO mobilises researchers

The WHO has convened a two-day global research and innovation forum in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday to mobilise international action in response to the coronavirus.

Participants will discuss several areas of research, including identifying the source of the virus and sharing biological samples and genetic sequences to fast-track development and evaluation of diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines.

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“With 99 per cent of cases [occurring] in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in his opening remarks.

“We hope that one of the outcomes of this meeting will be an agreed road map for research around which researchers and donors will align.”

Earlier on Tuesday, WHO experts arrived in China to investigate the outbreak and “lay the groundwork for a larger international team”, Tedros tweeted.

Guangzhou clinic closes after positive tests

Clifford Hospital in Guangzhou, a private facility with 2,100 beds, suspended all clinical services on Monday after three patients tested positive for the coronavirus and were transferred to a designated hospital for confirmed cases.

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The hospital said an epidemiological investigation had identified 107 close contacts of the three patients, and all those affected, including hospital staff, had been placed under medical observation.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

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