China coronavirus outbreak: All the latest updates

Officials in China’s Hubei replaced after surge in deaths and criticism of provincial government’s handling of outbreak.

China on Thursday removed the top political leadership in Hubei, the province at the centre of the escalating coronavirus outbreak, shortly after health officials there reported 242 people died from the virus on Wednesday – more than twice the number of the previous day and the highest daily toll since the outbreak began. This has raised the death toll to 1,367. 

The province and its capital Wuhan where the infection now known as COVID-19 is thought to have originated in late December also reported more than 14,800 new cases of the infection after adopting new clinical methods to diagnose the virus.

The number of infected across China rose to 59,805.

At least 25 countries have confirmed cases and several nations have evacuated their citizens from Hubei. Three deaths have been recorded outside mainland China – one in  Hong Kongone in the Philippines, and the most recent in Japan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the virus poses a “grave threat” to the world, with chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying the virus could have “more powerful consequences than any terrorist action”.

Updates for February 13 have concluded. For February 14 updates click here

Thursday, February 13

Economic Advisor: White House ‘disappointed’ in China’s transparency

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow Thursday said the Trump administration was “disappointed” with China’s response to the coronavirus and the fact that no United States health officials have been invited in to help with the outbreak.

“We thought there was better transparency coming out of China, but it doesn’t appear to be,” Kudlow said.

Trumps says China handling Coronavirus ‘professionally’

US President Donald Trump praised China over its handling of the fast-moving coronavirus outbreak in an interview that aired on Thursday, adding that the United States was working closely with Beijing.

“I think they’ve handled it professionally, and I think they’re extremely capable,” Trump said in a podcast broadcast on iHeart Radio.

Asked if China was telling the truth about virus, Trump said: “Well, you never know. I think they want to put the best face on it”.

Indian generic drugmakers may face supply shortages from China 

Shortages and potential price increases of generic drugs from India loom if the coronavirus outbreak disrupts suppliers of pharmaceutical ingredients in China past April, industry experts told Reuters news agency.

An important supplier of generic drugs to the world, Indian companies procure almost 70 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) for their medicines from China.

India’s generic drugmakers say they currently have enough API supplies from China to cover their operations for up to about three months.

WHO: No major change in ‘trajectory’ of coronavirus outbreak

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that a spike of 14,000 coronavirus cases in China on Thursday was the result of new counting methods, and did not represent a major shift in the outbreak. 

“This increase that you’ve all seen in the last 24 hours is largely, in part, down to a change in how the cases are being reported,” Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme, told reporters.

Ryan also said he expected members of a WHO-led international mission to China to arrive over the weekend.

US confirms 15th case of COVID-19

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday confirmed the 15th case of the coronavirus in the United States, and said the person under federal quarantine at an airbase in Texas was the latest confirmed case.

It is the first person under quarantine at the airbase among a group of people that arrived from China on February 7 who had symptoms and tested positive for the disease, the CDC said.

Beijing florist gives out hand sanitiser with Valentine’s Day flowers

It’s the eve of Valentine’s Day and flower seller Cai Xiaoman is enclosing a special gift – a small bottle of hand sanitiser to ward off coronavirus – as she sends out her last few bouquets to customers in Beijing.

It has been a tough month for her. Sales are down 90 percent in the midst of an outbreak. Wearing a face mask, Cai carefully sprays her hands with alcohol and puts on a pair of gloves before packaging her flowers. She then puts hand sanitiser into the bouquets she creates.

She says she was inspired by a customer who asked her to sanitise a bouquet before she delivered it. She is now giving sanitiser to other customers as a personal gesture.
“I think this is very heart-warming, and I want my customers to feel comfortable,” she told Reuters news agency. “Because now the outbreak is severe, and everyone is scared. I hope this will end soon.”

Beijing Florist
A florist who prefers to be called Cai Xiaoman wearing a face mask at a flowers shop in Beijing. [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

Cambodia says no passengers on castaway cruise ship have coronavirus

None of the 20 passengers on board a cruise ship which docked in the Cambodian port town of Sihanoukville on Thursday have the coronavirus, a spokesman for the Southeast Asian country’s health ministry told Reuters news agency.

The MS Westerdam, carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, docked in Sihanoukville in the evening after anchoring offshore early in the morning to allow Cambodian officials to board the vessel and collect samples from passengers with any signs of ill health or flu-like symptoms.

China’s Huanggang city to tighten virus control measures

The Chinese city of Huanggang, near the epicentre of the outbreak of the coronavirus, said on Thursday that starting from Friday it would tighten epidemic control measures including sealing residential complexes and only allowing essential vehicles on roads.

Food and the delivery of other essential goods will be arranged by designated personnel, the city said in a statement.

Apple to reopen some stores in Beijing

Apple will reopen some stores in Beijing on February 14 with reduced operating hours, it said on its website, while many of its other stores in mainland China will remain shut as the country continues to battle a coronavirus outbreak.

The company said on February 8 that it was making preparations to reopen its official outlets after shutting down all of them earlier this month.

Apple Store Beijing
A woman wears a face mask as she walks past an Apple store that is temporarily closed due to health concerns in Beijing. [File: Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press]

Xi pledges to minimise impact of virus, maintain momentum of economy

China will definitely be able to minimise the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and will maintain the development momentum of the country’s economy, President Xi Jinping said on Thursday, state media reported.

China will strive to achieve this year’s development targets, Xi added, in a telephone call with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the report said.

Qatar to reschedule oil and gas shipment to China: energy minister

Qatar Minister of Energy Saad al-Kaabi said the country’s energy companies are actively participating in meeting some of the requests to reschedule or redirect Qatari oil and gas shipments to China amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Al-Kaabi said in a statement on Wednesday that Qatar supports its Chinese energy counterparts in order to support all efforts made by its government to deal with the outbreak.

Japan confirms its first coronavirus death: Health minister

Japan reported its first coronavirus death, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said.

The victim is an 80-year-old woman living in Kanagawa prefecture, which borders on Tokyo, Kato told a news conference.

Singapore reports 8 new cases, total tally jumps to 58

Singapore reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus cases, with eight newly infected patients bringing its total to 58, the health ministry said.

All of the new cases were linked to previous patients, the ministry said. Of the 58 confirmed cases reported, 15 have recovered and been discharged from hospital while seven are in critical condition in intensive care, it added.

Malaysia confirms 19th case

A Chinese national has become the 19th person in Malaysia to be infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus (Covid-19), the health ministry revealed.

The 39-year-old woman arrived in Malaysia with four other people from Wuhan on January 25. According to local media reports, she is the daughter of the 16th coronavirus victim, and a friend of the 14th victim.

Singapore, Hong Kong World Rugby Sevens Series postponed

The Singapore and Hong Kong legs of the World Rugby Sevens Series have been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, World Rugby announced.

The Singapore tournament, which was due to take place on April 11-12, will now take place on October 10-11, and the Hong Kong leg has been moved from April 3-5 to October 16-18.

Hong Kong masks
 Fifty cases have been recorded each in Hong Kong and Singapore [Jerome Favre/EPA]

Second citizen journalist in Wuhan vanishes: activists

A second citizen journalist reporting on the epidemic in Wuhan has disappeared, activists said.

Fang Bin, a seller of traditional Chinese clothing, stopped posting videos or responding to calls and messages on Sunday, said activists Gao Fei and Hua Yong, citing Fang’s friends. His phone was off on Wednesday.

Another citizen journalist, Chen Qiushi, vanished on Friday.

Bin had posted videos online of in Wuhan’s overcrowded hospitals, including relatives mourning their deceased and patients lying in hospital beds.

Commune in Vietnam under lockdown after increase in virus cases

Official media in Vietnam have reported that a commune of 10,000 residents northwest of the capital Hanoi was put in lockdown due to a cluster of cases there.

The online newspaper VN Express cited a senior official of Vinh Phuc province as reporting an increase in cases in Son Loi commune.

Vietnam has confirmed 16 case of the diseases, most of them in the Vinh Phuc province.

Police wearing masks guard a road checkpoint before entering the Son Loi commune in Vinh Phuc province, Vietnam, on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. 0fficial media reported that the Son Loi commune with 10,00
Police wearing masks guard a road checkpoint before entering the Son Loi commune in Vinh Phuc province, Vietnam [Yves Dam Van/AP]

North Korea imposes quarantine measures on all foreign visitors

North Korea will impose a month-long quarantine on all foreign visitors and others suspected of having COVID-19, the official Korean Central News Agency said on Thursday.

The decision to extend the quarantine period to 30 days was based on research studies suggesting the incubation period of the virus could be as long as 24 days.

The report did not confirm the country’s previous quarantine period, but the Russian embassy in Pyongyang said in a Facebook post earlier this month that North Korea was putting foreign visitors under a 15-day quarantine.

North Korea has yet to report a case of the virus, but state media reports have hinted that an uncertain number of people have been quarantined after showing symptoms.

China replaces head of its Hong Kong and Macau affairs office

China is replacing the head of its office that oversees matters in Hong Kong, the human resources ministry announced in Beijing on Thursday.

Xia Baolong, a 67-year-old vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), will replace Zhang Xiaoming. 

Communist party chief in Wuhan replaced – state media

Ma Guoqiang, the party chief in Hubei’s capital Wuhan, has been fired, the state-run Global Times reported.

The paper said the removal of the provincial bosses amid complaints over their handling of the outbreak showed the central government was responding swiftly to the crisis.

Singapore official warns more coronavirus cases likely

An official in Singapore said the number of infections in the city-state was likely to rise because the virus was clearly circulating within the population.

“We really cannot say whether it will get better, whether it will get worse, what sort of situation is going to unfold,” Lawrence Wong, a cochairman of Singapore’s taskforce fighting the outbreak, said.

“We don’t know how successful we will be in all of these containment measures that we have put in place.” 

Wong said additional measures could involve “social distancing in order to try and reduce the chance of the virus spreading further.”

Singapore has reported 50 confirmed cases. Eight people are in criticial condition, while 15 have fully recovered. 

China’s Hubei province communist party chief relieved of duty – state media

Jiang Chaoliang, the head of the Communist Party in the Chinese province of Hubei, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, has been relieved of his duties, state media reported on Thursday.

Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong has been appointed as the new secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, the report said, citing the party’s central committee

Forty-four more coronavirus cases on Japan ship: Health minister

A further 44 people on board a cruise ship moored off Japan’s coast have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the country’s health minister said on Thursday.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the 44 new cases were detected from another 221 new tests. They raise the number of infections detected on the Diamond Princess to 218, in addition to a quarantine officer who also tested positive for the virus.

Japan ship
More people on board the quarantined Diamond Princess were diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]

Tokyo, IOC officials reiterate that the Olympics are on

Tokyo Olympic organisers reiterated on Thursday at the start of two days of meetings with the International Olympic Committee: The Summer Games will not be waylaid by the coronavirus that is spreading from neighbouring China.

“I would like to make it clear again that we are not considering a cancellation or postponement of the games. Let me make that clear,” Yoshiro Mori, the president of the organising committee, said, speaking through an interpreter to dozens of top IOC officials gathered in Tokyo.

The Olympics open in just over five months, and the torch relay begins next month.

Numerous sporting events have already been postponed as a result of the virus. 

Seriously ill pushed to margins as China battles coronavirus

Ruyi Wan was diagnosed with leukaemia last May and was hoping for a bone marrow transplant after chemotherapy failed.

But as medical resources are funnelled into fighting the coronavirus, the 20-year-old has been unable to get treatment in Wuhan and cannot go elsewhere because of the travel restrictions. With a serious illness she is also more vulnerable to the infection.

“I hope for a miracle because Ruyi is so young and has so many dreams,” her mother Juan Wan told Al Jazeera. “We can’t let her die.”

Read Shawn Yuan’s story on the people suffering from cancer, kidney disease and HIV now struggling to get the treatment they need in a system stretched to its limits.

US airlines extend China flight cancellations into late April

United Airlines said late on Wednesday it would extend cancellations of all US flights to China until late April because of the coronavirus, joining other US carriers that have suspended China routes.

Airlines say part of the reason is a dramatic drop in demand, but the US has also introduced strict restrictions on travellers to the United States who have visited China, barring nearly all non-US residents if they have been in China within the previous 14 days.

The US is also limiting flights from China or other international flights with US passengers who have been to China within the previous 14 days to 11 major airports for enhanced screening. It also requires a quarantine of US citizens who have recently visited Hubei province in China.

CDC confirms 14th US case of coronavirus in Wuhan evacuee

A second person evacuated from Wuhan to a US military base near San Diego has been diagnosed with the new coronavirus, raising the tally of confirmed cases in the United States to 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday.

The patient was among 232 people under quarantine at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar after being airlifted out of Wuhan earlier this month, CDC spokeswoman Ana Toro said.

Another evacuee was diagnosed with the virus earlier this week, but CDC officials said it appeared the two had been separately exposed to the virus in China before arriving in the United States.

They arrived on different planes and were housed in separate facilities.

“At this time there is no indication of person-to-person spread of this virus at the quarantine facility, but CDC will carry out a thorough contact investigation as part of its current response strategy to detect and contain any cases of infection with this virus,” Dr Christopher Braden, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said in a statement.

Cruise ship shunned over coronavirus fears arrives in Cambodia – ship tracker

A cruise ship which had spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over fears that someone on board might have the coronavirus arrived in Cambodia on Thursday, satellite-tracking data showed.

The MS Westerdam arrived in Sihanoukville, according to data published by the Marine Traffic website.

Although no passengers have fallen ill on board, the ship had been turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand over fears that someone on the cruise could have the virus.

UK confirms new case, first in London

The UK has confirmed its ninth case of coronavirus, saying the latest patient – the first in London – had caught the virus while in China.

“One further patient in England has tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the total number of cases in the UK to nine,” Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England said in a statement.

“This virus was passed on in China and the patient has now been transferred to a specialist NHS centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London.”

Read more about which countries have confirmed cases here.

Read the updates from Wednesday, February 12 here.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies