China confirms first death outside epicentre of viral outbreak


  • China
  • Friday, 24 Jan 2020

Medical staff transfering a patient of a highly suspected case of a new coronavirus at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong, China, on Thursday night (Jan 23). - Reuters

BEIJING: China moved to lock down at least three cities with a combined population of more than 18 million in an unprecedented effort on FRiday (Jan 24) to contain the deadly new virus that has sickened hundreds of people and spread to other parts of the world during the busy Lunar New Year holiday.

The open-ended lockdowns are unmatched in size, embracing more people than New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago put together.

The train station and airport in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, were shut down, and ferry, subway and bus service was halted. Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in the city of 11 million were eerily quiet. Police checked all incoming vehicles but did not close off the roads.

Similar measures were being imposed Friday in the nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. In Huanggang, theaters, internet cafes and other entertainment centers were also ordered closed.

In the capital, Beijing, major events were cancelled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of holiday celebrations, to stop the spread of the virus. The Forbidden City, the palace complex in Beijing that is now a museum, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday.

China's National Health Commission said on Friday morning (Jan 24) the confirmed cases of the new coronavirus had risen to 830 with 26 deaths. The first death was also confirmed outside the central province of Hubei, where the capital, Wuhan, has been the epicentre of the outbreak.

The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or people with connections the city. Other cases have been confirmed in the United States, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand. Singapore and Vietnam reported their first cases Thursday, and cases have also been confirmed in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macao.

Many countries are screening travelers from China for symptoms of the virus, which can cause fever, coughing, breathing difficulties and pneumonia.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China's Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people's liberties. And the effectiveness of such measures is unclear.

"To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science," said Gauden Galea, the WHO''s representative in China. "It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work."

Jonathan Ball, a professor of virology at molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in Britain, said the lockdowns appear to be justified scientifically.

"Until there's a better understanding of what the situation is, I think it's not an unreasonable thing to do,” he said. "Anything that limits people's travels during an outbreak would obviously work.”

But Ball cautioned that any such quarantine should be strictly time-limited. He added: "You have to make sure you communicate effectively about why this is being done. Otherwise you will lose the goodwill of the people.”

During the devastating West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leone imposed a national three-day quarantine as health workers went door to door, searching for hidden cases. Burial teams collecting corpses and people taking the sick to Ebola centres were the only ones allowed to move freely. Frustrated residents complained of food shortages.

In China, the illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month in Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub. Local authorities demanded all residents wear masks in public places and urged civil servants wear them at work.

After the city was closed off Thursday, images showed long lines and empty shelves at supermarkets, as people stocked up. Trucks carrying supplies into the city are not being restricted, although many Chinese recall shortages in the years before the country's recent economic boom.

Analysts predicted cases will continue to multiply, although the jump in numbers is also attributable in part to increased monitoring. - AP
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China , Coronavirus , Death

   

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