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China’s President Xi says coronavirus situation ‘grave’

Two cases have been confirmed in the United States – one in Chicago and another outside Seattle, in travellers who have returned from Wuhan. Infections also have turned up in South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, and France, as well as Australia. Canadian officials confirmed it has also spread there via a man in his 50s who had recently flew from Wuhan to Guangzhou and then on to Toronto on Thursday.

Though the vast majority of illnesses and all the fatalities are within China, growing concern about the disease rippled across the globe. Governments outside China continued to ramp up precautions.

Japan, expecting 400,000 Chinese tourists this week, advised staff at airports and shops to wear face masks while serving customers, something usually considered inappropriate for customer-facing employees. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said airlines arriving in Japan had been asked to distribute health surveys and advise customers to report symptoms, while checks had also been stepped up for customers arriving by cruise ship.

In Granada, Spain, a tourist from Wuhan was isolated in a hospital after he showed up there with a fever, a Spanish media outlet reported. Other tourists in the group, who had no symptoms, were advised to remain in their hotel.

The International Olympic Committee moved a Summer Games qualifying event in boxing from Wuhan to Amman, Jordan. A women’s soccer qualifying match also planned for Wuhan has been shifted to Nanjing, China.

Facing the biggest public health challenge to the Chinese government in more than a decade, Xi instructed China’s highest ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee, to “comprehensively mobilise” resources and manpower to provide medical aid, guarantee security and order in hospitals and provide markets with supplies in the cordoned-off city of Wuhan.

People wear masks at the International terminal at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Saturday, as it emerged the coronavirus had spread to Canada.

People wear masks at the International terminal at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Saturday, as it emerged the coronavirus had spread to Canada. Credit:AP

“As long as we are resolute … we can win the battle of controlling the epidemic,” he told top party leaders, according to CCTV.

In the heart of the outbreak where 11 million residents have been on lockdown since Thursday, Wuhan banned most vehicle use, including private cars, in downtown areas. The city will assign 6000 taxis to neighborhoods to help people get around if they need to.

Wuhan plans to build a second makeshift hospital with about 1000 beds to handle the growing number of patients. The city has said another hospital was expected to be completed by February 3.

Hubei province’s Civil Affairs Department deputy director-general Hu Yinghai appealed for masks and protective suits.


“We are steadily pushing forward the disease control and prevention … but right now we are facing an extremely severe public health crisis,” he told a news briefing.

CCTV, citing an announcement from China’s tourism industry association, said the country would halt all group tours, both at home and abroad, from Monday.

A new study released Saturday suggested that each person with the virus is passing it to two or three others, which helps explain the virus’s rapid spread. The mathematical model from researchers at Imperial College London and the World Health Organisation indicated that officials must stop more than 60 per cent of the virus’s transmission to control the outbreak.


“It is uncertain at the current time whether it is possible to contain the continuing epidemic within China,” researchers wrote.

In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said flights and high speed rail trips between the city and Wuhan will be halted and her government would raise its response level to emergency, the highest one.

At US airports, passengers arriving from China stood out because of the face masks almost all wore as protection against the virus. But they voiced varying levels of concern.

In Chicago, Sophia Shek, 42, of Hong Kong said life in her city over the past week has been “pandemonium.” Long lines snaked through stores to purchase supplies and some retailers have taken advantage of the crisis by hiking prices to as much as $90 a mask, she said. Friends asked her to stock up and bring back face masks and other short supplies.

She said she is anxious about the virus and travelled only because the trip was for work. “I experienced SARS,” she said of the similar coronavirus that killed 774 people and infected more than 8000, most of them in China, in 2002 and 2003. “This new virus is dormant so you don’t know if the person next to you has it.”

A Chinese health worker checks the temperature of a man entering a subway station during the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival on January 25, 2020 in Beijing.

A Chinese health worker checks the temperature of a man entering a subway station during the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival on January 25, 2020 in Beijing.Credit:Getty Images

Bridget Russell, 55, a nurse from Austin, said the only extra precaution she noticed in Beijing was a sensor that checked passengers’ temperatures. The mood on her flight from the Chinese capital was calm, but she admitted, “it was freaky looking up and seeing 99 per cent of the people wearing masks”. She joined them, wearing one on the flight and at O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, after she arrived.

At Los Angeles International Airport, Anthony Su, 53 who was on a flight from Taipei, Taiwan to his home in Los Angeles after 10 days in Fuzhou, a city in south-eastern China, said that when he first heard news of the outbreak he stopped going out.

“I tried to avoid public areas, not go to the restaurant or any public place,” he said.

Others were more sanguine.

“We had SARS, so we are not that terrified,” said Eric Tsang, 40, “We have experience – masks on, wash your hands regularly, that’s OK for us.”

Tsang, visiting Los Angeles on business, said China has moved more quickly this time to quell the outbreak.

“China is doing better than before,” he said. “At least they acted very quickly. They asked to stop everybody, even during the holiday. I think this is a wise move.”

The spread of the virus was felt halfway around the world in Lunar New Year celebrations of the Year of the Rat in Chinese communities in the United States. At the University of Washington in Seattle, 30 minutes south of where the first US case was confirmed, dozens of Chinese students turned out for the festivities – with some wearing face masks. They crowded into a residence hall lobby festooned with red paper lanterns, red tablecloths and garland with the Chinese character for happiness.

Lindsey Gao, an 18-year-old freshman, said she was impressed by people who donned masks to protect themselves, but she didn’t think it was necessary.

“I admire them for doing that, but I think it looks a little weird,” said Gao, who emigrated from China when she was 6. Her mother, who lives on Mercer Island, across a floating bridge from Seattle, disagreed. “She texted me last night, ‘Did you buy a face mask?’ I said no and she said, ‘Well, do you want to die?'”

A Chinese woman who declined to give her name said she had cancelled her family’s restaurant reservations and would be having dinner at home. She doubted she’d be preparing a traditional Chinese feast; caution about the virus also kept her away from the Asian market to buy ingredients.

The Northwest Chinese School, with locations in Bellevue and Seattle, sent out an email calling off weekend classes. “We take the health of our students and families very seriously and think that this is the best course of action,” administrators wrote.

Kevin Ma, 28, a Seattle tutor said he hasn’t detected any stigma or ethnic profiling of Chinese people. “I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said. “People are pretty sensitive to the fact that just because you are Chinese doesn’t mean you have it.”

State-run China Global Television Network reported on Saturday that a doctor who had been treating patients in Wuhan, Liang Wudong, 62, had died from the virus.

US coffee chain Starbucks said it was closing all its outlets in Hubei province for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, following a similar move by McDonald’s in five Hubei cities.

The Washington Post, with Reuters, AP

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