Science

China coronavirus: WHO to hold special meeting in Beijing as death toll jumps


The head of the World Health Organisation will hold a special meeting with officials in Beijing on Monday to discuss how to contain the coronavirus that has killed 80 people and left more than 400 in a critical condition.

In an effort to reduce chances of infection during what is China’s busiest travel season, officials announced the end of this week’s lunar new year holiday would be postponed until at least 2 February. Authorities have also widened sweeping restrictions that have curbed the movement of tens of millions of people.

A total of 17 cities are now under lockdown, with several areas banning long-distance bus services, including Beijing, Shanghai and the eastern province of Shandong, home to 100 million people.

On Monday, Chongqing municipality, which has a population of 30 million, adopted similar measures. The municipality borders Hubei province, where the vast majority of deaths, have been recorded.

The suspension of long-distance bus services, the cheapest way to travel, is likely slow down the return of millions of migrant workers who have visited their families over the lunar new year.

By postponing the end of the holiday to Sunday from Friday, officials hoped to “effectively reduce mass gatherings” and “block the spread of the epidemic,” a cabinet statement said.

Many of China’s big retail chains have also said they will temporarily close their stores, while some online businesses and banks have advised employees returning from Hubei province to work from home.

Chinese vendors wear protective masks as they sell vegetables in the street during the Chinese New Year holiday



Chinese vendors wear protective masks as they sell vegetables in the street during the Chinese New Year holiday Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Across the country, around 50 million people are now living in areas that have been placed under lockdown. This includes Wuhan, where the outbreak originated, and where most private cars are banned, trains and flights suspended.

The city was visited by Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, the country’s second most powerful man, on Monday morning, when he was photographed at medical facilities in the city. He told staff at Wuhan hospital: “I am here to cheer you up”.

His visit follows concern that hospitals in the city are severely overstretched, running out of beds, testing kits and basic equipment. In response to the crisis, officials are now building two designated hospitals to deal with an expected increase in cases.

On Sunday night, the mayor of Wuhan said he predicted another 1,000 new cases in the city, and revealed that 5 million residents had left Wuhan before it went into lockdown. This includes people who traveled for the lunar new year festival, as well as those who fled to escape the virus and impending shutdown.

Experts have questioned whether the quarantine measures, which were introduced in Wuhan from Thursday morning, are helpful. The restrictions were announced hours before they were introduced, potentially encouraging cases to scatter across the country. Some fear severity of restrictions also risks creating anger towards health officials at a time when the public’s cooperation is desperately needed.

The WHO’s director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week urged China to ensure lockdown measures are kept “short in duration”

There are also doubts about the effectiveness of airport screening, following suggestions that it is possible to be infected but not have any symptoms.

What is the virus causing illness in Wuhan?

It is a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals, or possibly seafood. New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are examples.

What other coronaviruses have there been?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals.

What are the symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus?

The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died are known to have been already in poor health.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

In the past week, the number of confirmed infections has more than tripled and cases have been found in 13 provinces, as well as the municipalities Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin. The virus has also been confirmed outside China, in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam. There have not been any confirmed cases in the UK at present, with the 14 people tested for the virus all proving negative. The actual number to have contracted the virus could be far higher as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected. 

How worried are the experts?

There were fears that the coronavirus might spread more widely during the week-long lunar new year holidays, which start on 24 January, when millions of Chinese travel home to celebrate, but the festivities have largely been cancelled and Wuhan and other Chinese cities are in lockdown.

At what point should you go to the doctor if you have a cough, say?

Unless you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected with the virus, then you should treat any cough or cold symptoms as normal. The NHS advises that there is generally no need to visit a doctor for a cough unless it is persistent or you are having other symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or you feel very unwell.

Should we panic?

No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. It increases the likelihood that the World Health Organization will declare the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday evening. The key concerns are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital.

Sarah Boseley Health editor and Hannah Devlin 

The disease has already spread to more than 10 countries abroad, with new cases continuing to emerge. Both Australia and US recently confirmed their fifth cases . In total, across China and elsewhere, more than 2,700 cases have been recorded.

Officials in Australia said they did not believe there had been any human-to-human transmission of the virus in the country, where children are due to return to school this week from the summer break. Children have been in close contact with a confirmed case of the virus, should not attend school for 14 days, officials said.

Singapore urged citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China, and said students and staff who had recently travelled to the country should stay at home for two weeks. Hong Kong has banned residents of Hubei from entering the territory from Monday.

Announcing his visit to Beijing on Sunday, Tedros said that the organisation was working 24 hours a day to support China’s response to the virus, adding: “My WHO colleagues and I would like to understand the latest developments and strengthen our partnership with China in providing further protection against the outbreak.”

Last week, the WHO decided not to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, but said it would closely monitor the situation. Such a declaration would rally international resources and could lead to trade or travel restrictions.

Reuters contributed to this report.



READ SOURCE

READ  Mount St Helens: How ‘dreadful discovery’ by USGS showed volcano RISING 5ft a DAY

Leave a Reply