The Philippines on Sunday reported the first death from coronavirus outside of China, where authorities delayed the opening of schools in the worst-hit province and tightened quarantine measures that allow only one family member to venture out to buy supplies.
The Philippine Department of Health said a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan was admitted on Jan. 25 after experiencing a fever, cough, and sore throat. He developed severe pneumonia, and in his last few days, “the patient was stable and showed signs of improvement, however, the condition of the patient deteriorated within his last 24 hours resulting in his demise.”
The man’s 38-year-old female companion, also from Wuhan, also tested positive for the virus and remains in hospital isolation in Manila.
President Rodrigo Duterte approved a temporary ban on all travellers, except Filipinos, from China and its autonomous regions. The U.S., Japan, Singapore and Australia have imposed similar restrictions despite criticism from China and an assessment from the World Health Organization that they were unnecessarily hurting trade and travel.
Duterte says there are currently 23 people in isolation and under observation for suspected coronavirus in the Philippines.
Globally, 14,557 cases in more than 20 countries were confirmed by Sunday, according to the World Health Organization, most of them in China, an increase of 2,604 from Saturday. The death toll in China climbed by 45 to 304. Outside of China, there were 146 confirmed cases, 14 of them newly reported.
The numbers are well above those in the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which broke out in southern China and spread worldwide.
Six officials in the city of Huanggang, neighbouring the epicentre of Wuhan in Hubei province, have been fired over “poor performance” in handling the outbreak, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
It cited the mayor as saying the city’s “capabilities to treat the patients remained inadequate and there is a severe shortage in medical supplies such as protective suits and medical masks.”
Situation in Hubei ‘severe and complicated’
After Huanggang, the trading centre of Wenzhou in coastal Zhejiang province also confined people to homes, allowing only one family member to venture out every other day to buy necessary supplies.
The situation in Hubei province remains “severe and complicated” and medical resources at county level are relatively weak, vice governor Xiao Juhua told a news conference on Sunday.
With the outbreak showing little sign of abating, authorities in Hubei and elsewhere have extended the Lunar New Year holiday, due to end this week, well into February. The annual travel crunch of millions of people returning from their hometowns to the cities is thought to pose a major threat of secondary infection.
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All Hubei schools will postpone the opening of the new semester until further notice and students from elsewhere who visited over the holiday will also be excused from classes.
Far away on China’s southeast coast, the manufacturing hub of Wenzhou put off the opening of government offices until Feb. 9, private businesses until Feb. 17 and schools until March 1.
Chinese port city confirms 241 cases
With nearly 10 million people, Wenzhou has reported 241 confirmed cases of the virus, one of the highest levels outside Hubei. Similar measures have been announced in the provinces and cities of Heilongjiang, Shandong, Guizhou, Hebei and Hunan, while the major cities of Shanghai and Beijing were on indefinite leave pending developments.
Despite imposing drastic travel restrictions at home, China has chafed at those imposed by foreign governments, criticizing Washington’s order barring entry to most non-citizens who visited China in the past two weeks. It’s thought such steps could worsen a domestic economy already growing at its lowest rate in decades.
New Zealand announced Sunday it is temporarily banning travellers from China to protect the South Pacific region from the virus. The 14-day ban applies to foreigners leaving China but not to New Zealand residents. New Zealand also raised its travel advice for China to “Do not travel,” the highest level.
Among a growing number of airlines suspending flights to mainland China was Qatar Airways. The Doha-based carrier said on its website that its flights would stop Monday. It blamed “significant operational challenges caused by entry restrictions imposed by a number of countries” for the suspension of flights.
Indonesia and Oman also halted flights to China, as did Saudi Arabia’s flagship national carrier, Saudia.
Saudi Arabia’s state-run media reported that 10 Saudi students were evacuated from Wuhan on a special flight. It said the students would be screened upon arrival and quarantined for 14 days.
Quarantine planned as plane lands in France
A plane repatriating 250 French and European nationals from Wuhan landed on Sunday at a military airbase in Istres, in southern France. Sixty-five French nationals will be quarantined for 14 days either at a holiday resort at Carry-Le-Rouet, in the south of France, or at a firefighters’ training centre near Aix-en-Provence, Secretary of State for Child Protection Adrien Taquet told reporters.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the plane was carrying nationals of 30 countries. Non-French nationals will travel on to their home countries, he added.
Europe so far has 23 people infected with the virus that emerged from Wuhan: Germany with eight, all tied to the same auto parts factory; France with six; Russia, Italy and the U.K with two each and Finland, Sweden and Spain each with one.
This weekend, South Korea and India flew hundreds of their citizens out of Wuhan. The evacuees went into a two-week quarantine.
Montrealer Megan Millward, her husband and their two young children remain in a rural town outside Wuhan, waiting to hear when they can get a flight home.
She told CBC News on Sunday that Canadian officials have remained in touch with her, but they have not yet been able to confirm a date or time for the family’s departure.
WATCH | Megan Millward of Montreal says the wait continues for her family’s departure from Hubei province:
Last Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the government has chartered an aircraft to bring home Canadians stranded in the coronavirus-affected region of China. He said it could take several days to organize the flight. Ottawa estimates nearly 200 Canadians are trapped and need passage home.
On Sunday, South Korea reported three more cases of the virus for a total of 15. They include an evacuee, a Chinese relative of a man who tested positive and a man who returned from Wuhan. India reported a second case, also in southern Kerala state.
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South Korea also barred foreigners who have stayed or travelled to Hubei province within the last 14 days from entering the country.
Indonesia flew back 241 nationals from Wuhan on Sunday and quarantined them on the remote Natuna Islands for two weeks. Several hundred residents protested the move, with one saying, “This is not because we do not have a sense of solidarity with fellow nationals. But because we fear they could infect us with the deadly virus from China.”
A Turkish military transport plane carrying 42 people arrived in Ankara from Wutan Saturday night. The 32 Turkish, six Azerbaijani, three Georgian nationals and an Albanian will remain under observation for 14 days, together with 20 personnel who participated in the evacuation, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
Vietnam counted its seventh case, a Vietnamese-American man who had a two-hour layover in Wuhan on his way from the U.S. to Ho Chi Minh City.
The virus’ rapid spread in two months prompted the WHO on Thursday to declare it a global public health emergency. WHO said it was especially concerned that some cases abroad involved human-to-human transmission.
“Countries need to get ready for possible importation in order to identify cases as early as possible and in order to be ready for a domestic outbreak control, if that happens,” Galea told The Associated Press.
Both the new virus and SARS are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that cause the common cold.
Thousands of specimens yet to be tested
The death rate in China is falling, but the number of confirmed cases will keep growing because thousands of specimens from suspected cases have yet to be tested, Galea said.
“The case fatality ratio is settling out at a much lower level than we were reporting three, now four, weeks ago,” he said.
Although scientists expect to see limited transmission of the virus between people with family or other close contact, they are concerned about cases of infection spreading to people who might have less exposure.