Coronavirus Live Updates: China Expands Mass Roundup
- by NewYorkTimes
- Feb. 13, 2020
Top officials in Beijing on Thursday expanded their mass roundup of sick or possibly infected people beyond Wuhan, the city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, to include other cities in Hubei Province that have been hit hard by the crisis, according to the state-run CCTV broadcaster.
The orders to begin mass quarantines in Wuhan came down from the government last week to “round up everyone who should be rounded up,” part of a “wartime” campaign to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak.
Confirmed patients with mild symptoms were put in large quarantine spaces. Suspected cases went to converted hotels and schools to be isolated. Close contacts of confirmed cases and patients with a fever who could have been infected were also put in separate facilities.
But the state-led effort has been plagued by experiences of chaos and disorganization, deepening anxiety and frustration in a city already on edge from a prolonged lockdown.
Desperate to stop the spread of the virus, officials hastily drew up a plan to convert venues like stadiums, exhibition centers, hotels and schools into temporary medical centers for the thousands who could not get admitted to a hospital.
In the rush to carry out the edict, officials in Wuhan are haphazardly rounding up sick patients, in some cases separating them from their families and placing them in makeshift medical facilities, sometimes without providing the medicine or support they need.
Deng Chao, 30, has been in a government-imposed quarantine in a Wuhan hotel room for nearly a week. In a telephone interview, he said that although doctors had told him he almost certainly had the coronavirus, he hadn’t yet received the official results from the test that he needed to be admitted for proper treatment at a hospital.
In the meantime, he was getting progressively sicker and finding it more difficult to breathe. He said that several security guards had been stationed at the entrance to his hotel to prevent patients from escaping and that there were no doctors or medicine available.
“This is really like a prison,” Deng Chao, 30, said angrily by telephone.
“Send me to a hospital, please, I need treatment,“ he said, in between bouts of coughing. “There is no one to take care of us here.”
To combat the spread of the coronavirus, Chinese officials are using a combination of technology and policing to track movements of citizens who may have visited Hubei Province.
Mobile phone owners in China get their service from one of three state-run telecommunications firms, which this week introduced a feature for subscribers to send text messages to a hotline that generates a list of provinces they have visited in the past several weeks.
That has created a new way for the authorities to see where citizens have traveled.
At a high-speed rail station in the eastern city of Yiwu on Tuesday, officials in hazmat suits demanded that passengers send the text messages and then show their location information to the authorities before being permitted to leave the station. Those who had passed through Hubei Province were unlikely to be allowed to enter the city.
Elsewhere, cities are using apps in a similar manner.
In Shanghai, passengers arriving by train must fill out personal information, including their name, address, phone number and national ID number in a mobile application called Health Cloud. To confirm they have completed the process, the app sends a text message to the user’s phone.
At the Hongqiao railway station in Shanghai, a barricade of volunteers in surgical masks and goggles is checking arriving passengers’ phones, to confirm they have filled in the form.
Companies in China generally shy away from sharing location data with the local authorities, over fears it could be leaked or sold. And there were some signs that the companies were uncomfortable with the new release of tracking information.
China Mobile cautioned that the data should be taken only as a reference, because the record indicates where the phone has been, not its owner. It also doesn’t differentiate between people who briefly passed through a province and those who spent significant time there.
For a moment on Thursday, it seemed as if there might be some good news from the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship quarantined in the port of Yokohama in Japan, when the authorities said they would release some passengers to shore to finish their two-week quarantine because of the coronavirus.
Instead, Japanese health officials announced the first death from the virus in the country, a woman in her 80s in Kanagawa Prefecture, which includes Yokohama. They also announced 44 new confirmed cases of infection on the ship, raising the total to 218.
Updated Feb. 10, 2020
Although some passengers will be released early, the pool of those eligible for offshore quarantine is still quite narrow: guests 80 or older who have existing medical conditions or are stuck in cabins without windows or balconies. They can stay in onshore quarantine facilities until Feb. 19 if they test negative for the virus. Those who test positive will be taken to hospitals.
It all added to mounting stress on the closed quarters of the Diamond Princess.
“I have worked hard to stay calm, but now it’s getting so much harder,” Sarah Arana, 52, a medical social worker from Paso Robles, Calif., said in a text message. “It appears that we are put at risk daily by staying on the ship.”
The death of the woman in her 80s is the third from the coronavirus outside mainland China, after one each in the Philippines and Hong Kong. The Japanese woman had no record of travel to mainland China.
On Thursday, another cruise ship, the Westerdam, which had been denied permission to stop in Japan, Guam, Taiwan and the Philippines despite having no diagnoses of coronavirus, was able to dock in Cambodia.
The Centers for Disease Control said on Thursday that a person under quarantine at a military base in San Antonio had tested positive for the virus, bringing the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in the United States to 15.
The person, who was not identified, arrived at the base last week on a State Department-chartered flight and is now being treated in isolation at a hospital in the area.
The patient is the third person under quarantine to test positive, joining two people at a base in San Diego who were confirmed to have the virus this week. In its statement announcing the case, the C.D.C. said that there would likely be more cases over the next few days and weeks.
More than 600 people who left Wuhan after the outbreak began remain under required quarantine at military bases in the United States.
China’s ruling Communist Party on Thursday fired the leaders of Hubei Province and Wuhan, amid widespread public anger over the handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the region.
Jiang Chaoliang, the party secretary of Hubei Province, is the highest-ranking official to lose his job over the handling of the outbreak, which has killed more than 1,300 people in recent weeks.
After the outbreak first emerged in Wuhan, the leadership came under intense scrutiny for playing down the virus and delaying reports of its spread. The province then took drastic measures that included imposing a lockdown on Wuhan, a city of 11 million, and on tens of millions of people in surrounding areas.
For hospitals in Wuhan, already overwhelmed with patients, that cordon worsened a shortage of medical supplies.
Mr. Jiang will be replaced by Ying Yong, the mayor of Shanghai. The selection of Mr. Ying may underline the continued political control of Xi Jinping, China’s top leader. Before being transferred to Shanghai in a fairly senior role in 2008, Mr. Ying had come up through the political ranks in Zhejiang Province, Mr. Xi’s political base.
The party also ousted Ma Guoqiang, the top official in Wuhan, and replaced him with Wang Zhonglin, formerly the party secretary of the eastern city of Jinan.
The number of people confirmed to have the coronavirus in Hubei Province skyrocketed by 14,840 cases, to 48,206, the government said on Thursday, setting a new daily record. The announcement came after the authorities changed the diagnostic criteria for counting new cases.
Nationally, the new figures propelled the total number of coronavirus cases in China to 59,805 and the death toll to 1,367. The jump in new cases puts extra pressure on the government to treat thousands of patients, many of whom are in mass quarantine centers or in isolation facilities.
The sudden uptick is a result of the government including cases diagnosed in clinical settings, including with the use of CT scans, along with those confirmed with specialized testing kits.
After the sudden change, epidemiologists warned that the true picture of the epidemic is muddled, since accurately tracking cases can tell experts the number, location and speed at which new infections are occurring.
Health experts said the change in reporting was meant to provide a more accurate view of the transmissibility of the virus. The new criteria is intended to give doctors broader discretion to diagnose patients, and more crucially, isolate patients to quickly treat them.
Previously, infections were confirmed only with a positive result from a nucleic acid test. But a government expert said those tests were about 30 to 40 percent accurate. There is also a shortage of testing kits, and the results of these tests take at least two days.
Because hospitals were overstretched and lacked testing kits, many infected patients were told to go home rather than be isolated and undergo treatment.
Many patients displaying symptoms of the coronavirus have complained that they had to wait days, and even weeks, to be tested and receive treatment. Others, including the recently deceased whistle-blower Dr. Li Wenliang, said they had to be tested four or five times before the tests showed a positive result.
A video blogger in the city of Wuhan who had been documenting conditions at overcrowded hospitals at the heart of the outbreak has disappeared, raising concerns among his supporters that he may have been detained by the authorities.
The blogger, Fang Bin, is the second citizen journalist in the city to have gone missing in a week after criticizing the government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. The disappearances come as Chinese authorities have clamped down on the news media and the internet in an effort to control the narrative about the escalating crisis.
Mr. Fang began posting videos from hospitals in Wuhan on YouTube last month, including one that showed a pile of body bags in a minibus. In early February, Mr. Fang said in a video message that he had been briefly detained and questioned. A few days later, he filmed an exchange he had with strangers who showed up at his apartment claiming to bring him food.
Now Mr. Fang has gone quiet. His last video, posted on Sunday, was a message written on a piece of paper: “All citizens resist, hand power back to the people.”
Gao Fei, a resident of a neighboring city who is part of a chat group formed by Mr. Fang on WeChat, the Chinese social media app, said he heard from another member of the group that Mr. Fang was taken away from his apartment by plainclothes officers on Monday. The account could not immediately be verified.
Last week, Chen Qiushi, a citizen journalist and lawyer in Wuhan who recorded the plight of patients and the shortage of hospital supplies, vanished, according to his friends.
A day after the authorities in Britain announced that a ninth person in the country had tested positive for coronavirus, officials were working to trace anyone who had come into close contact with that person, saying that limiting the virus’s spread was a top priority.
England’s chief health official, Prof. Chris Whitty, told a BBC 4 radio program that containment and isolation were main concerns, and officials were focusing on how to control any potential coronavirus outbreak in Britain while containing current cases.
“If we are going to get an outbreak here in the U.K. — and this is an if, not a when — then putting it back in time, into the summer period away from the winter pressures on the N.H.S., buying us a bit more time to understand the virus better, possibly having some seasonal advantage, is a big advantage,” he said, referring to the National Health Service.
The first group of 83 people who returned to Britain from the Chinese province of Hubei after the virus was discovered were to be released from quarantine in a hospital near Liverpool, England, on Thursday, health officials said.
Elsewhere in Europe, officials were taking similar measures. Dr. Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said that her organization was carrying out regular risk assessments to help countries decide what measures were necessary.
Taiwan will extend a ban on exports of face masks through April, the government said on Thursday. The move comes as officials and institutions around the world are scrambling to ensure adequate supplies of masks for medical workers and other vulnerable groups.
Taiwan initially imposed a monthlong prohibition on mask exports on Jan. 24, a move that was condemned by state media and online commentators in mainland China.
Taiwan companies produce about a fifth of the face masks available worldwide, while the island itself has only 0.3 percent of the global population. The mismatch appears to have fed the criticism.
But officials in Taiwan, a self-governed democracy that denies Beijing’s claims of sovereignty, say its manufacturers produce most of their masks in factories in mainland China, not in Taiwan. Those masks are now being requisitioned by the local authorities in the mainland for use in high-risk settings.
According to data from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, 53 percent of masks used in Taiwan last year were produced domestically, and the rest were imported, mostly from mainland China. Demand has soared faster than production so far this year.
Taiwan already has a form of mask rationing, with each resident permitted to buy two surgical masks a week. Health cards with computer chips are used by pharmacies across the island to control purchases.
The Hong Kong Sevens and the Singapore Sevens rugby tournaments will be postponed to October from April because of the coronavirus outbreak, the sport’s governing body said Thursday.
The Hong Kong Sevens is one of the city’s biggest sporting — and partying — events, drawing in rugby fans from around the world. The decision to postpone was made “in order to help protect the global rugby community and the wider public,” World Rugby said in a statement.
Hong Kong, which now has 51 confirmed cases of the virus and one death, has closed or restricted a variety of public activities in response to the outbreak. Horse racing continues at Hong Kong Jockey Club tracks, one of the city’s other major sporting draws. But attendance is limited to a few hundred horse owners and guests, in addition to trainers, jockeys and officials.
Singapore confirmed eight new cases of the virus on Thursday, all linked to previous cases, bringing the total to 58.
About 740 South Korean soldiers were under quarantine on Thursday as the country’s military tried to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus among its ranks.
The quarantined soldiers included those who have visited mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau in recent weeks, and those who have been in close contact with relatives or others who have been to China or tested positive for the virus.
South Korea keeps a 600,000-strong army as a bulwark against the threat from North Korea. Most of these soldiers live in communal barracks.
So far, no South Korean soldier has tested positive. The rest of the country has reported 28 confirmed cases, and no deaths. South Korea has reported no new cases in the past two days.
North Korea has said it was also taking measures against the virus but has not released any official figures.
Video of medical workers from the Xinjiang region dancing with patients at a coronavirus hospital in Wuhan have prompted scrutiny of their roles helping with the outbreak.
A team of 142 medical professionals from Xinjiang traveled to Wuhan on Jan. 28 to help treat people infected with the new virus, and at least two more teams have followed.
As more people in Wuhan have been placed into mass quarantine, a number of videos have emerged showing the Xinjiang workers leading healthier patients in dance routines to get some exercise and ease boredom.
One of the leaders of the Xinjiang team told Xinhua, the state-run news service, that a patient had asked her to lead a dance. The leader, Bahaguli Tuolehui, seen in the video below, said she chose a Kazakh dance, the Kara Jorga. The patients “have done square dances before in the hospital,” she said. “I felt a Xinjiang dance would be pretty good, too.”
But to some Uighurs outside China, the videos were a reminder of the simplistic way Turkic minorities can be depicted inside the country, even in a time of emergency.
“That’s what China strives to achieve: not only to portray but also to force the entire Uyghur nation to become nothing but singers, dancers and menial workers,” Kamalturk Yalqun, a Uighur living in Philadelphia, wrote on Twitter.
China has put a million or more Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominately Muslim groups into indoctrination camps in Xinjiang, part of a campaign to enforce loyalty while eroding minority languages, religions and cultures.
Former inmates have described harsh conditions in detention, stirring concern that the spread of the virus within Xinjiang could prove dire in the camps. Xinjiang has thus far reported 55 coronavirus infections.
Reporting and research was contributed by Gillian Wong, Chris Buckley, Sui-Lee Wee, Steven Lee Myers, Keith Bradsher, Austin Ramzy, Choe Sang-Hun, Amber Wang, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Yiwei Wang, Claire Fu, Amy Qin, Elaine Yu, Makiko Inoue, Hisako Ueno, Eimi Yamamitsu, Motoko Rich, Megan Specia, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Paul Mozur, Niraj Chokshi, Raymond Zhong and Tariro Mzezewai.