Coronavirus: China expert lambasts Italy’s ‘lax’ response to pandemic

Teddy Ng

Mainland China on Thursday reported no new domestic coronavirus infections for a second day running, and its lowest number of deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, in two months.

The National Health Commission said that all of the 39 new cases reported on Thursday were imported. Three fatalities were also reported on the day – the lowest daily tally since January 21, which was two days before Beijing announced unprecedented measures to lock down Wuhan, the city in which the outbreak was first reported.

Since the start of the outbreak, mainland China has reported 80,967 infections and 3,248 deaths. As of Friday there were also 31 suspected cases, though none were in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.

Among the imported cases reported this week were several members of the Chinese fencing team, who returned home on Monday after competing in Hungary, its governing body said.

Of the 39 cases reported on Thursday, 14 were in Guangdong province, eight in Shanghai, six in Beijing, three in Fujian province, and one each in seven other provinces and the city of Tianjin. The new additions took the total number of imported cases in China to 228.

While the lack of new domestic cases appears promising, some health experts have questioned the accuracy and value of China’s numbers.

People with only mild symptoms do not count as confirmed cases under Beijing’s rules, but they can still spread the virus, the experts said.

Critics have also argued that China is playing the figures to make itself out to be a global leader in the fight against Covid-19.

Meanwhile, a study by a group of Chinese academics and published in The Journal of Pediatrics suggested that babies and infants infected with the virus were more likely to experience severe symptoms than older children.

Of the 2,143 children reported to have contracted Covid-19 between January 16 and February 08 – including several treated at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine – more than 90 per cent were asymptomatic or had only mild to moderate symptoms.

However, of those who experienced severe or critical symptoms, 10.6 per cent were under a year old, 7.3 per cent were aged between 12 months and five years, and 4.2 per cent were aged between six and 10. Just 4.1 per cent were aged 11 to 15, and 3 per cent over 15.

“These results suggest that young children, particularly infants, are most vulnerable to infection,” the paper said.

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Elsewhere in the world, the health crisis is worsening. Italy announced 427 new deaths on Thursday, pushing its total to 3,405, and surpassing the combined death toll for mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

The European nation also has the world’s second-highest number of diagnosed cases, 41,035, after China. At least five doctors in Italy are among the dead.

China has sent a team of experts to Italy to share their experiences of containing the outbreak. One of them described the coronavirus measures adopted in the Lombardy region as lax.

“Here in Milan, the hardest hit area by Covid-19, the lockdown measures are very lax. I can see public transport is still running, people are still moving around, having gatherings in hotels and they are not wearing masks,” Sun Shuopeng, vice-president of The Red Cross Society of China, said in Milan on Thursday.

“I don’t know what people here are thinking. We really have to stop our usual economic activities and our usual human interactions. We have to stay at home and make every effort to save lives. It is worth putting every cost we have into saving lives,” he said.

Meanwhile in the United States, the number of confirmed cases rose to 10,442 on Thursday, and the death toll to 150.

Among the confirmed cases was an employee at the US Department of State in Washington, CNN reported.

“Today, we learned of our first case of someone who works in a domestic annex in Washington, DC,” the undersecretary for management Brian Bulatao said in an email to staff.

The affected area of the building would be temporarily closed and disinfected, he said.

As of Friday morning, the global death toll from Covid-19 was almost 9,900.

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