China scrambles for masks, protective suits; coronavirus death toll crosses 700
The death toll in mainland China jumped by 86 to 722, and is poised to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 SARS pandemic.
The new coronavirus epidemic in mainland China has so far claimed over 700 lives and infected over 34,400 people worldwide. Amid the alarming situation, health experts warned of mask shortages, and more cases were confirmed on a quarantined Japanese cruise ship.
The outbreak is almost certain to become more deadly than SARS, experts said on Saturday.
The number of new infections in China’s Hubei province -- the epicenter of the outbreak -- rose on Friday from a day earlier, Chinese health officials said.
The death toll in mainland China jumped by 86 to 722, and is poised to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that jumped from animals to humans in China.
So far only two deaths have been reported outside mainland China -- in Hong Kong and the Philippines -- from about 332 cases in 27 countries and regions.
During the SARS outbreak between November 2002 and July 2003, 774 people died globally, while the number of reported cases was 8,098, suggesting a far lower transmission rate than the latest coronavirus, but a higher mortality rate.
After China recorded its first daily drop in the number of new infections on Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was too early say whether the outbreak had peaked.
The first cases in December were traced to a seafood market in the Hubei capital of Wuhan, where wildlife was sold illegally.
Hubei officials on Saturday reported 81 new deaths, 67 of those in Wuhan, a city under virtual lockdown. Across mainland China, excluding the 2,050 people who had recovered and those who had died, the number of outstanding cases stood at 31,774.
Beijing’s communist leadership has sealed off cities, canceled flights and closed factories to contain the epidemic, with ripple effects for global markets and businesses dependent on the world’s second-biggest economy.
WHO experts say they have not seen the same rapid increase in cases in provinces outside Hubei.
Speaking in Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned earlier that “the numbers could go up again”.
Lack of masks and gowns
The WHO chief warned of worldwide shortages of gowns, masks and other protective equipment.
“When supplies are short and demand is high, then there could be bad practices like hoarding in order to sell them at higher prices, and that’s why we ask for solidarity,” Tedros told a Geneva briefing.
Whistleblower doctor’s death
Memories of how China was slow to tell the world about the SARS outbreak were rekindled on Friday when a doctor who had tried to raise the alarm about the new coronavirus succumbed to the disease in a Wuhan hospital.
Ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, 34, was among eight people reprimanded by police in Wuhan for spreading “illegal and false” information after he shared details of the virus with colleagues.
Social media users called him a hero and shared a selfie of him lying on a hospital bed wearing an oxygen respirator and holding up his Chinese identification card.
There were signs that discussion of Li’s death was being censored. After briefly trending on Weibo, the topics “the Wuhan government owes doctor Li Wenliang an apology” and “we want free speech” yielded no search results.
Another three people on a cruise liner off Japan tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases from the ship to 64, Japan’s Health Ministry said on Saturday.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCL.N) on Friday banned “any guests holding a Chinese, Hong Kong or Macau passport, regardless of when they were there last” from boarding the company’s ships.
Taiwan’s government said that starting from Monday it would suspend all direct passenger and freight shipping between the island and China. It had already decided to suspend most flights from Monday between Taiwan to China.
Singapore has raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition level from yellow to orange. This means that the disease is deemed severe and spreads easily from person to person but has not spread widely and is being contained
Hundreds of foreigners have been evacuated out of Wuhan over the past two weeks. A second evacuation plane to airlift Australians out of Wuhan was delayed after China did not give it clearance to land, Australian officials said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said Washington was prepared to spend up to $100 million to assist China and support coronavirus efforts by the WHO.
The US has sent nearly 17.8 tonnes of medical supplies to China, including masks, gowns and respirators, a State Department official said.