Coronavirus Live Updates: China Reports More Deaths as U.S. Orders Evacuation


As China marked a somber Lunar New Year on Saturday, 15 more deaths from the new coronavirus were reported in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Other countries, including Australia, said the virus had reached their shores.

The latest deaths, announced early Saturday by the health authorities in Hubei Province, whose capital is Wuhan, brought the toll in China to 41. All but three of those deaths were in Wuhan. The latest victims ranged in age from 55 to 87, the authorities said.

Nationwide, more than 400 new cases of the virus were diagnosed, officials said early Saturday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in China to nearly 1,300.

Travel restrictions in Wuhan and 12 other cities have essentially penned in 35 million people on the country’s biggest holiday, normally a time for traveling to visit family.

The State Department has ordered all American employees at the United States Consulate in Wuhan to leave the city, as a lockdown imposed on central China expanded, the United States Embassy said on Saturday.

It said the evacuation of its American staff members and their families was necessary because of the spreading outbreak of the coronavirus, the disruptions caused by the restrictions on transportation in Wuhan and the overwhelming of hospitals.

The evacuation order, made on Thursday, according to a statement from the United States Embassy, was a sign that the measures imposed by the Chinese authorities to try to contain the outbreak of the mysterious coronavirus may be escalating alarm and confusion.

Lines have formed at hospitals and residents have complained that the traffic restrictions have made it nearly impossible to seek timely medical help.

The United States Embassy did not provide further details, but a report by The Wall Street Journal said that a Boeing 767, which seats 230 people, would leave on Sunday and the evacuees would pay the cost.

The plane’s destination was not immediately known.

The French Consulate in Wuhan also told its citizens on Friday that it was considering setting up bus rides for those who wished to leave the city, in cooperation with the Chinese authorities, according to France’s Foreign Ministry.

Wuhan tightened its restrictions further on Saturday with a ban on vehicle traffic in the city center, to begin at midnight.

The local government said some vehicles would be exempted, including shuttle buses and trucks moving supplies. Residents responded with frustration on social media. One woman, who said she was pregnant and near her due date, asked if she was supposed to walk to her gynecologist’s office.

All the reported deaths from the outbreak have been in mainland China, but travelers have spread the virus to numerous other places. Cases have been confirmed in Australia, Malaysia, Nepal, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, France and the United States.

The authorities in Wuhan said they would also speed up the customs process for donated supplies, as hospitals in the city raise the alarm about a shortage of hospital gowns, surgical masks and other necessities.

A notice posted Saturday on the website of the city’s customs agency said that new channels were being put in place to ensure that donations were put to immediate use. Overseas donations will be exempted from tax duties, the notice said.

During past crises, the authorities in China have been criticized for their reluctance to accept overseas assistance, apparently preferring to project a sense of control. As China has grown more affluent, it has become a provider of aid rather than a recipient, particularly to regions like Africa.

China has made exceptions during some past disasters, including a devastating earthquake centered on Sichuan Province in 2008.

On Saturday, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, declared a health emergency in the semiautonomous Chinese city and said schools would be closed until mid-February.

The city is treating five coronavirus patients connected to Wuhan, and more than 100 others are suspected of having the viral pneumonia.

Hong Kong is also suspending flights and train services to Wuhan and will cancel all Lunar New Year celebrations. The Hong Kong Marathon, originally scheduled for early February, has also been called off.

Masks and hand sanitizers have sold out in most pharmacies in the city as residents have stocked up on supplies in a panic since last week.

Yuen Kwok-yung, a leading expert in infectious diseases who discovered the agent causing the coronavirus, had called for schools and universities to remain closed beyond the Lunar New Year holiday in an effort to contain the infection’s reach.

Recent cases have shown that people who do not show symptoms could transmit the disease, according to a study published in The Lancet on Friday of which he was a co-author.

“If there are local cases in Hong Kong that is not directly connected to Wuhan, this is a big issue,” Dr. Yuen said in a phone interview. “It would mean that this epidemic has reached another level of severity. “

The medical journal The Lancet published a study on Friday suggesting that people infected with the coronavirus might be able to spread it even if they do not have flu symptoms.

Researchers studied a family of seven in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, five of whom had traveled to Wuhan, the center of the outbreak. Two of them came into contact with an infected relative in a hospital there. Testing conducted days later, after they flew home, found that six members of the family had the coronavirus, including one who had not gone to Wuhan.

One infected family member, a child, had no symptoms, suggesting that people with the virus might be spreading it without knowing that they have it, the study found.

“It shows this new coronavirus is able to transfer between person to person, in a hospital setting, a family home setting, and also in an intercity setting,” Yuen Kwok-yung, an author of the study, said in an interview. “This is exactly what makes this new disease difficult to control.” Dr. Yuen characterized the disease as “asymptomatic walking pneumonia.”

The researchers cautioned that the study was limited to early cases of the virus, and that it was difficult to assess risk factors at this stage. But they stressed the importance of quarantining patients as early as possible, given the early signs of asymptomatic transmission.

Another study in The Lancet found that symptoms of early coronavirus cases showed similarities to SARS, the respiratory disease that killed nearly 800 people worldwide in an outbreak that began in China in 2002. Those symptoms included fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.

The streets of Wuhan were largely empty on Saturday, the first full day of China’s Lunar New Year holiday.

By contrast, the site for a new hospital to treat victims of the coronavirus was a mosh pit of activity. Earthmovers, trucks and hundreds of construction workers dug and scraped to build a new facility that, if completed within days as scheduled, could do more than treat the ailing.

The government vowed on Friday that it would finish building the hospital in 10 days, a feat recalling the SARS epidemic of 2003, when Beijing built a hospital with similar speed.

Besides treating infected people at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, the facility would also serve as a potent symbol of the government’s drive to do what needs to be done. If Beijing built a hospital in a few short days, in other words, Wuhan can do it too.

On Saturday, officials announced that a second hospital was in the works to treat people infected by the virus. It would have a capacity for 1,300 beds. They plan to complete the facility, called Leishenshan Hospital, in 15 days.

China is virtually unsurpassed in its capacity to finish in mere months the sort of factories, bridges and other projects that could take many years in other countries. The dozens of earthmovers gouging the soil on the outskirts of Wuhan attested to that strength.

But some workers at the site of the first planned hospital, called Huoshenshan, said there was a severe need for skilled workers. Many are at home or elsewhere, to keep from catching the coronavirus.

Yuan Banfu, a worker from neighboring Henan Province, said a call had gone out on Chinese social media for volunteers to help at the site. He had proudly signed up.

“This is the new Tangshan Hospital,” he said, referring to the hospital that Beijing built in 2003.

Mr. Yuan, a wiry 46-year-old, said he had not been able to go home for the Lunar New Year break because the authorities had closed the routes out of Wuhan.

“I’m glad to be of help for the people of Wuhan,” he said. “My family is worried, but I told them I’m here anyway and we have to help.”

Some workers at the site said they had volunteered, while others said they had received calls from their employers urging them to turn up. Nearly all the workers at the site, an expanse of brown mud in the drizzling rain, wore protective masks.

“I’m not too scared,” Mr. Yuan said. “I work outdoors and my heart and lungs are strong

Officials in a southern Chinese city said on Saturday that a 2-year-old girl suffering from the coronavirus had been admitted to a hospital and was in stable condition. That would make her the youngest person confirmed to have been infected, according to a social media account run by the People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.

Health officials in the city of Hechi, in the southern region of Guangxi, said that the girl was surnamed Zhong and lived in Wuhan. She had flown from Wuhan to the city of Nanning, which is also in Guangxi, on Tuesday. From there, she was driven to Hechi.

The next day, she developed a fever and began sneezing. She was admitted to Hechi People’s Hospital and put in isolation, officials said. Officials did not disclose who she was traveling with or what condition they might be in.

Medical experts are watching closely to see who the coronavirus infects and who might be most vulnerable to it. Most of those killed by the coronavirus so far have been older men, many with chronic health issues. The youngest fatality disclosed so far was 36 years old.

For people in the United States with close ties to China, the outbreak has brought unexpected worry, disappointment and scrutiny. Some in the Chinese-American community have had their Lunar New Year holiday plans waylaid, as travel schedules for the coming week and beyond get interrupted.

Some are gearing up for the outbreak to get worse. Hardware stores and pharmacies around the United States are selling out of masks that could help prevent the spread of the disease. In the New York City neighborhood of Flushing, masks have been sold out for much of the week.

Chinese-Americans networking with their friends and family in China have scrambled to send aid. One woman in Los Angeles has amassed 20,000 masks to ship overseas.

Sean Shi, of Issaquah, Wash., said he shipped several boxes of masks to China in a friend’s luggage, with hopes that the masks could reach friends in the Wuhan area as soon as possible. Later in the day, Mr. Shi was back at a local hardware store, buying another 46 masks for some of his former peers at Wuhan University.

“We understand it’s a tough situation over there — the panic, the shortage of equipment,” Mr. Shi said. “We just realized the situation is very serious — more serious than we thought.”

Reporting was contributed by Tiffany May, Steven Lee Myers, Vivian Wang, Chris Buckley, Carlos Tejada, Rick Gladstone, Mike Baker, Jeffrey E. Singer and Elian Peltier. Yiwei Wang and Claire Fu contributed research.



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