National health officials in Beijing announced a slew of new cases and virus-related deaths early Thursday morning (nearly 8,000 have been sickened, another 12,000 cases are suspected, and roughly 170 have died), but since then, things have been quiet.
If the recent past is any guide, this would suggest another dump of new cases and deaths is in the offing.
Three new cases were confirmed in Vietnam overnight. But in terms of news flow, most of the drama during the early hours of Thursday centered around Italy and Russia.
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With the WHO set to reconvene its emergency committee in Geneva on Thursday for the third time in a week, experts are calling on the supra-national organization to label the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” or PHEIC – the official designation of a global pandemic.
The 16 independent experts on the WHO’s emergency committee will advise Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the decision and give recommendations for managing the outbreak. Earlier this week, Tedros met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing earlier in the week to discuss the situation. Twice last week, the WHO decided to hold off on declaring a public health emergency, saying it was “too soon,” according to the SCMP.
Hitoshi Oshitani, a former regional adviser on communicable disease surveillance and response at the WHO’s Western Pacific office, told the SCMP that there is an “imminent risk” of a dangerous global outbreak.
“I think the WHO should have declared a public health emergency of international concern earlier. They are supposed to declare PHEIC based on a risk of international spread. There was already significant risk of international spread one week ago,” Oshitani said.
Oshitani added that controlling this new coronavirus is proving more difficult than suppressing the 2003 SARS outbreak, largely because the virus can spread via individuals who are infected, but exhibit few – or no – symptoms.
“For Sars, patients were infectious only when they developed very severe illness. But for this virus, patients are likely to be infectious even during the incubation period. If so, rapid isolation is not enough to contain the virus,” he said.
SARS infected 8,000 people and killed 813 worldwide. The coronavirus outbreak has already surpassed SARS in terms of the number of cases in China. Globally, the virus has already effectively tied SARS for the number of confirmed cases, though if skeptical epidemiologists are correct, the true number of cases has already far surpassed the total for SARS.
A number of evacuation missions have been completed, as the US and Japan have flown citizens trapped in Wuhan to safety. However, Japanese officials discovered that several citizens on the flight were infected with the virus, leading to a mass quarantine. UK officials said that citizens evacuated from Wuhan must agree to spend two weeks in quarantine after returning to the UK.
An Italian cruise ship with some 6,000 on board is being held at Civitavecchia, roughly 35 miles north of Rome, after a Chinese couple on board came down with the virus, according to the Daily Mail.
Coppia di cinesi con febbre alta su nave crociera a #Civitavecchia, bloccati seimila passeggeri: sospetti per #Coronavirus, in isolamento nell’ospedale di bordo, raggiunti dai medici dello#Spallanzani per realizzare i test#ioseguoTgr @TgrRaiLazio pic.twitter.com/ZOZXihg3G6
— Tgr Rai (@TgrRai) January 30, 2020
The couple arrived in Italy on Jan. 25 and boarded the ship in the port town of Savona. None of the passengers and crew are being allowed off the ship until everybody has been examined for signs of the virus.
Italy isn’t the only country worried about Chinese tourists who entered the country weeks ago, and might potentially be carrying the virus. Thailand fears that more than 20,000 vacationers from Wuhan have already passed through its borders.
Russia’s newly appointed Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on Thursday signed an order to close the country’s border with the Far East to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Russia joins North Korea, becoming the second country to completely shutter its border with the world’s second-largest economy. Although Russia hasn’t provided details about the plan, Russia also border China, Japan and North Korea along the Far East.
Mishustin has also asked Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova to inform the population on a daily basis about the current situation and preventive measures, according to the Russian press.
Both Russia and the Czech Republic have decided to suspend the granting of visas to Chinese.
Meanwhile, villages and apartment complexes across China are “taking the fight against a deadly viral epidemic into their own hands,” according to AFP.
Some areas are starting to look like something out of a sectarian conflict, complete with check points and makeshift barricades. Groups of locals have constructed makeshift barricades across access roads to keep potentially-infected strangers out.
In one residential compound in Beijing, “a motley stack of shared bicycles have been haphazardly woven together and wired to a wooden ladder, blocking a side gate and forcing visitors to register with guards at the main entrance.”
With more than 50 million people still on lockdown, resentment against the ruling party has intensified, and more Chinese are speaking out on social media, according to the NYT: “We gave up our rights in exchange for protection,” the user wrote. “But what kind of protection is it? Where will our long-lasting political apathy lead us?” That post was shared more than 7,000 times.
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