Coronavirus: WHO official says there’s no evidence of ‘reinfected’ patients in China

Stuart Lau

The World Health Organisation dismissed reports that there were “reinfected” cases of coronavirus in China, as the global toll of people infected neared 100,000 on Friday.

While the focus has shifted from China to Europe’s preparedness for potential community outbreaks of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, Germany has asked the European Union to reduce its economic dependence on China because of supply-chain threats.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also criticised the “tit-for-tat” imposition of travel restrictions between Japan and South Korea.

On Friday afternoon, the global number of coronavirus cases passed the 100,000 mark. The contagion has killed more than 3,400 people and spread across more than 90 nations, with six countries reporting their first cases on Friday.

“As the number of cases increases we continue to recommend countries to make containment their highest priority,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference on Friday.

Mainland China, where the outbreak began, has seen more than 3,000 deaths, but the epidemic is now spreading faster elsewhere. The death toll in Italy, which has suffered Europe’s worst outbreak, is at least 148.

Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of the organisation’s emerging diseases unit, dismissed reports there were Chinese patients who had been “reinfected”.

“From the evidence we have, those cases were not reinfected,” she said, suggesting that the initial tests that returned a negative result could have been conducted imperfectly, or they were “borderline positive/negative” results.

Stay or go? Tough call for Chinese in Italy as coronavirus crisis hits

While Asia has by far the biggest number of cases by continent, Europe is bracing for possible community outbreaks, as have happened in northern Italy.

A special meeting of the European Council took place on Friday as Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, cast light on EU’s economic relationship with China.

“As the European Union, we should not be economically dependent on China in our supply chains to such an extent,” Spahn, who is running to be German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor, said in Brussels. “We have felt this for a long time: when it comes to pharmaceuticals, however, protective masks are also very specific in the health care sector now.

“But my impression is also that it goes beyond our economic interdependence, it is not a thing that can be solved … in two weeks, but in general we need less economic dependence in the supply chains on China. That has become very clear again today,” he added.

Germany is the biggest economic power in the 27-nation European Union.

A meeting of European ambassadors set to take place on Friday was cancelled after Croatia’s representative went into a precautionary quarantine because of the coronavirus, Politico reported.

Japan said on Thursday that it would adopt a two-week quarantine for visitors from China and South Korea, while expanding its entry ban to cover foreign visitors from parts of South Korea and Iran that have seen a surge in infections.

In response, South Korea announced that it would suspend the visa-free entry arrangements for Japanese travellers and impose “special immigration control measures” for people coming from Japan.

Japan’s quarantine rules for tourists slammed as coming ‘too late’

“There is a long history of countries [imposing] tit-for-tat travel restrictions,” said Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme. “We should focus on [saving lives], not political spats over travel restrictions.”

Ryan added that both Japan and South Korea have been “doing a fine job” in curbing the spread of the virus.

As the number of cases continues to rise, the WHO has been working with partners such as the University of Hong Kong to assess mortality rates. Said Van Kerkhove, “Those are critical for us to understand the extent.”

Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.

More from South China Morning Post:

This article Coronavirus: WHO official says there’s no evidence of ‘reinfected’ patients in China first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.