Coronavirus: at least 10 dead in Chinese quarantine hotel collapse, as Italy imposes lockdown on quarter of population

Frank Tang

China registered its first day of no new domestic coronavirus cases outside the central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.

But the progress was partly overshadowed by the growing death toll from the site of a quarantine facility that collapsed in Quanzhou, Fujian province, on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Italy announced sweeping quarantine measures, imposing restrictions on the movement of about a quarter of the country’s population to contain the outbreak there.

China’s National Health Commission said 44 new cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, had been reported by the end of Saturday – the lowest number since mainland China started reporting daily totals on January 20.

All the new cases were in Wuhan except for three imported cases, of which two were in Beijing and one in Gansu province in the country’s northwest. There were 27 new deaths, all in Hubei province, taking mainland China’s death toll to 3,097. In all, the country has reported 80,695 confirmed cases.

Experts said the new coronavirus might be sensitive to temperature, but with the epidemic spreading to the southern hemisphere and infections detected in a range of humidity, people in the northern hemisphere should not pin their hopes on the virus disappearing with the return of warm weather.

Fatalities at collapsed hotel, over 20 missing

At least 10 people were dead and 23 unaccounted for as of 4pm Sunday after a hotel in southeastern China used as a coronavirus quarantine centre collapsed on Saturday evening with about 80 people inside, state media quoted the emergency ministry as saying.

One of the critically injured people pulled from the rubble of Xinjia Express Hotel in Quanzhou city had died in hospital, according to city officials, state television reported.

The ministry said 38 people were being treated in hospital. Officials also gave a revised count of eight people who escaped when the building collapsed, while another person who was rescued did not require hospital treatment.

Xinhua news agency reported that the police had detained the hotel’s owner for investigation, adding that the hotel was being decorated, including renovation of two supermarkets on the building’s first floor, at the time of the accident.

Videos circulating online showed rescuers at the scene paying final respects to a body. The Quanzhou municipal government had confirmed that the hotel was being used as a medical observation facility for people travelling back to China from coronavirus epidemic regions.

Italy’s Hubei-style lockdowns

More than 15 million people were placed under forced quarantine in northern Italy early on Sunday as the government approved drastic measures in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Twitter that he had signed off on plans to strictly limit movement in and out of large areas including Venice and the financial capital Milan for nearly a month.

“#Coronavirus, the new decree is finally approved,” Conte wrote, confirming earlier reports of the lockdown in the newspaper Corriere della Sera and other media.

The measures echo those taken in China’s Hubei province.

Without a “serious” purpose that cannot be postponed, such as urgent work or family issues, people will not be allowed to enter or leave the quarantine zones, Corriere della Sera reported.

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The zones include the entire Lombardy region, Venice and its surrounding areas, and the cities of Parma and Rimini – affecting a quarter of Italy’s population of 60 million.

Museums, nightclubs, gyms and casinos will be closed in those places, with people advised to stay at home as much as possible, the newspaper said, adding that the restrictions would be in place until April 3.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Sunday called for Italy to ban its citizens from travelling to other parts of Europe.

“Italy should ban all its citizens from travelling to Europe, because we are not able to order such a thing within [the European Union’s borderless area] Schengen,” Babis said on Czech Television.

The Czech Republic had reported 26 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Saturday evening, most involving people who had travelled from Italy or had contact with someone who had been there.

Outbreak ‘unlikely to end in summer’

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung from the University of Hong Kong, who advised Chinese authorities on coronavirus control measures, has said that although the situation in mainland China and Hong Kong might improve in the summer, there could be more imported cases from the southern hemisphere in winter.

“We think the epidemic will probably not come to an end,” Yuen said in a pre-recorded television interview aired on Sunday. “There will be what we call reversed imported cases. In the beginning other countries feared us [for bringing in the virus]; now we fear them.”

China announced its lockdown of Wuhan soon after Yuen and his mainland counterparts, including Zhong Nanshan, visited the outbreak’s epicentre in mid-January.

In a separate interview with Chinese news outlet Caixin, Yuen said his team and other scientists were developing a vaccine. Tests on mice had so far been on track, he said, but he expected “it will be one year or 1½ years until clinical applications”.

Death in South America

A 64-year-old man has died in Argentina as a result of the coronavirus, the first such death in Latin America. The patient lived in Buenos Aires and had been confirmed as having Covid-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – after having a cough, fever and sore throat following a recent trip to Europe, Argentina’s health ministry said.

The patient, who suffered kidney failure, already had diabetes, hypertension and bronchitis before being infected with the virus, a statement said. He had been in intensive care since being admitted to a public hospital on Wednesday.

European borders likely to remain open despite crisis in Italy

Officials said the man was not one of the nine confirmed Covid-19 cases previously reported in Argentina. Work was under way to determine who the patient had come into contact with, the authorities said.

Peru announced five new cases on Saturday, raising the country’s total to six. Paraguay reported its first case, and Chile said it had seven confirmed cases, up from five.

Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica also have reported confirmed cases.

Virus ‘may thrive at optimal temperature’

A study by a team from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou found the virus that causes Covid-19 may have a temperature sweet spot at which it spreads fastest. But experts said people should avoid falling into the trap of thinking it will react to seasonal changes in exactly the same way as other pathogens, like those that cause the common cold or influenza.

The “virus is highly sensitive to high temperature”, which could prevent it from spreading in warmer countries, while the opposite appeared to be true in colder climes, according to the study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed.

However, a separate study found that sustained transmission of the coronavirus and the rapid growth in infections was possible in a range of humidity conditions.

Makeshift hospital closes

Wuhan’s largest makeshift hospital, Dongxihu, was closed on Sunday as the outbreak eased.

More than 20 patients had been discharged on Saturday to move to quarantine, while the remaining 50 were transferred to other hospitals, Shanghai-based news outlet Thepaper.cn reported, citing the Shanghai medical team working in Wuhan. Some of the transferred patients were moved to Huoshenshan, a special hospital built during the outbreak to treat severe cases.

Since opening on February 7, Dongxihu had admitted more than 1,700 patients with mild symptoms, with no deaths recorded.

Grave visits banned

Nanjing, capital of the eastern Jiangsu province, told its citizens on Sunday that they would be forbidden from visiting their ancestors’ graves during Ching Ming Festival, which this year falls on April 4.

The city’s government said in an online statement that people could instead pay their respects to the dead during the tomb-sweeping festival through a government app. It also instructed staff at graveyards and cemeteries to perform commemoration activities on people’s behalf. Mass commemoration and burial activities remain banned.

Located 300km (186 miles) west of Shanghai, Nanjing is the first major city to announce such an arrangement. It has reported a total of 93 coronavirus cases, 92 of which have been cured, and had no new infections on Saturday.

US’ first domestic military case

A US Marine in the Washington area who recently returned from official travel overseas has tested positive for the coronavirus, the US Department of Defence said on Saturday, in what would be the third confirmed case among US military personnel and the first in the United States. Previously, a member of navy personnel had tested positive, as had a soldier in South Korea.

The Marine, assigned to Fort Belvoir in Virginia, was being treated at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, a defence department spokesman said in a statement.

Defiant Trump refuses to halt rallies as coronavirus spreads in US

Pence urged people susceptible to infection to be cautious after meeting representatives from the cruise industry.

“If you have a family member [who is], or are yourself, a senior citizen with a serious underlying health condition, this would be a good time to practise common sense and to avoid activities, including travelling on a cruise line, that might unnecessarily expose one to the coronavirus,” Pence said.

Additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse

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