Coronavirus Updates: Quarantine Ordered As Cases Are Linked to Shopping Center

in News Uk

Passing through a device that sprays disinfectant at an entrance to a residential compound in Tianjin, China, on Tuesday.Credit…China News Service, via Reuters

Nearly a third of the confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Tianjin, a city of more than 15 million people about 70 miles southeast of Beijing, have been linked to one department store, adding to fears about rapid transmission among tightly clustered communities.

Of the 102 cases confirmed in the city, at least 33 of the patients worked or shopped at a department store in the city’s Baodi district, or had close contact with employees or customers, according to the city’s health authorities. Officials estimated that 11,700 customers had visited the shopping complex, which they did not identify, during a period in late January. The authorities said that those customers would be quarantined, and that the store itself was sealed and disinfected.

In addition, emergency measures were imposed over sections of the district — home to nearly one million people — with all but two entrances and exits sealed off in certain residential areas and security personnel on round-the-clock patrols. Residents in some areas were allowed to leave their homes to buy supplies only once every two days.

Several of the department store patients, including the latest announced on Tuesday, a 31-year-old woman, had no history of travel to Wuhan, the city where the outbreak emerged.

Mao Jinsong, the district head of Baodi, compared the department store to a seafood market in Wuhan where the outbreak is widely considered to have started.

“Do not let Baodi’s department store become Wuhan’s seafood market,” he said at a news conference.

Hong Kong officials evacuated and quarantined dozens of residents of an apartment building after two people living on different floors were found to be infected with the coronavirus, the authorities said on Tuesday.

The two cases appeared to suggest that the virus had spread through the building, perhaps through a pipe, raising new fears about the virus’s ability to spread.

Officials from the city’s Center for Health Protection said the decision to partially evacuate the building was made after the discovery of a unsealed bathroom pipe in the apartment of a newly confirmed patient, a 62-year-old woman. She lives 10 floors below a resident who was earlier found to be infected.

In addition to the infected residents, four other people living in three different units displayed symptoms of the coronavirus, according to Sophia Chan, Hong Kong’s health secretary.

In all, quarantines were ordered for the residents of 23 units of the Hong Mei House, a building on the Cheung Hong Estate, a public housing block in the New Territories section of the city.

The local outbreak prompted comparisons to an incident in 2003 when 329 residents of a housing estate in Hong Kong became infected with SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. The virus was later found to have spread through defective piping. Forty-two of the infected residents died.

“Our initial understanding is that the relevant household may have done some self-remodeling work,” Frank Chan, Hong Kong’s secretary for transport and housing, said of the outbreak on Tuesday.

Mr. Chan denied that the recent cases were comparable to the 2003 outbreak because of the location of the pipes. In the earlier case, the pipes were outside the building and the SARS virus was spread through the air.

  • WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW? START HERE.

    Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious,similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

At a government-organized news briefing on Tuesday, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the situation this time appeared to be different. But he said the authorities were not ruling out the possibility of airborne transmission of the virus.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said determining what happened at the housing complex was of “great importance” and ordered an investigation.

When Terry Law, 20, learned from late night news reports that the new coronavirus was believed to be spreading from one resident to another in the complex, he raced to the building.

Mr. Law’s 80-year-old grandfather has lived in the building for two decades. And while he is not in the same area where the two cases were found, his family did not want to take chances.

“Even though he’s in a different wing, they share the same lift and the same lobby,” said Mr. Law. “There’s lots of chances for people to meet.”

On Tuesday afternoon police had blocked off the building, only allowing in residents who showed identification. A street cleaning vehicle sprayed down the road outside, even as a light rain fell.

As a group of journalists watched outside the police line, a small bus drove out with a handful a masked residents. The driver was wearing protective coveralls, a mask and goggles.

Most of the residents of Hong Mei House are 60 or older, said Mr. Law. His grandfather is in good health, but he is worried.

“My grandfather is that old, so I want to take him home,” he said.

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The virus has sickened more than 43,100 people in China and 24 other countries.

A senior Chinese official warned on Tuesday that three populous provinces could be vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus as migrant workers return to their jobs after the Lunar New Year break.

The official, He Qinghua, said that the provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong and Henan could see a rise in new cases, even as the number of confirmed cases outside Hubei Province, the heart of the outbreak, has been declining.

The remarks highlight the looming possibility that more people could become infected as they resume their normal routines. Government officials had extended China’s official Lunar New Year holiday by three days to Feb. 3 to keep people home. Major business hubs, like the cities of Beijing and Shanghai and the provinces of Guangdong and Shandong, then further extended holidays until Monday.

Mr. He, who spoke at a news briefing in Beijing, was responding to comments made by Gauden Galea, the China representative for the World Health Organization. Mr. Galea told Bloomberg TV on Monday that the organization had found the numbers of cases slowly rising in 10 provinces. He said that it was too soon to say the epidemic had peaked.

The death toll from the coronavirus epidemic is continuing to climb, Chinese officials said Tuesday. By the end of Monday, the government said, 1,016 people had officially died from the coronavirus — an increase of 108 from the previous day. Hubei Province accounted for the great majority of the deaths.

The number of cases of infection in China also grew, to over 42,638 from about 40,000 a day earlier. Most of the infections are in Hubei, though the daily tally of new infections there fell compared to previous days.

On Monday, Hubei recorded 2,097 new infections, compared to 2,618 the day before.

“With 99 percent of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” the director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Tuesday.

One of the people evacuated to the United States from Wuhan last week is infected with the coronavirus, U.C. San Diego Health said in a statement. The Centers for Disease Control shared the diagnosis on Monday morning, the hospital said; the patient had previously been discharged after testing negative.

The patient, one of 167 passengers on a State Department-arranged flight from China that mostly carried American citizens, has since returned to the hospital near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

It is the 13th confirmed case in the United States, and the seventh in California.

Other government-arranged evacuation planes from China have taken passengers — more than 500 in all — to Nebraska, Texas and other bases in California in the last two weeks.

Those evacuated are expected to be quarantined for 14 days, with frequent checks from medical personnel to determine whether they have developed fevers, coughs and other early signs of the virus.

A Holland America cruise ship with more than 2,200 people aboard was denied entry to Thailand on Tuesday over fears that passengers may be carrying the dangerous coronavirus, bringing the total number of ports from which it has been turned away to at least five.

The ship, the Westerdam, which departed from Hong Kong on Feb. 1, has already been turned away at ports in at least five countries, including the United States territory of Guam, the Philippines and Japan.

Thailand, which has reported more than 30 cases of the virus, had earlier agreed to let the ship dock in Bangkok on Thursday.

But the public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, posted a cryptic message on Facebook on Tuesday saying, “I have issued orders. Permission to dock refused” with a cruise ship emoji.

Holland America has said that no one on board has come down with the virus.

“The ship is not in quarantine and we have no reason to believe there are any cases of coronavirus on board despite media reports,” Holland America said in a statement issued Monday.

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The ship, said to have 1,445 passengers and 802 crew on board, was originally bound for Yokohama, Japan.

It was unclear where the ship is headed next. A country may be more willing to accept the ship once it has been afloat for the standard 14-day quarantine period and has no reported cases of the virus.

The company said that all passengers would receive a 100 percent refund and a 100 percent credit for a future trip. The ship was providing free internet and phone access to passengers, the company said.

A different ship, the Diamond Princess, has been docked for more than a week in Yokohama, Japan, where it was put under quarantine after cases of infection were confirmed.

Sixty-five more infections were confirmed on Monday, that ship’s captain told passengers, raising the total number of cases on board to 135.

At least 20 of the infected passengers are from the United States, according to a Princess Cruises spokeswoman. In all, 416 American passengers boarded the vessel, the Diamond Princess, at the start of the voyage according to the spokeswoman.

China’s Communist Party dismissed two health officials in Hubei, the province at the center of the epidemic, the state-run media reported on Tuesday. They were the first senior officials to be punished for the government’s handling of the outbreak.

They were replaced by a deputy head of the National Health Commission, Wang Hesheng, whom Beijing dispatched to the region three days ago to take over the provincial government’s response to the crisis, according to the media reports.

Mr. Wang will take over the duties of both officials: Zhang Jin, the Communist Party secretary for Hubei’s health commission, and Liu Yingzi, the health commission’s director. Mr. Wang previously held a variety of positions overseeing public health and family planning in Tianjin, near Beijing, and on the national level beginning in 2016.

It was not immediately clear whether the dismissals were the beginning of a broader political shake-up in the provincial government, whose response to the outbreak has been widely criticized. The party secretary and the mayor of Wuhan, Ma Guoqiang and Zhou Xianwang, both offered to resign but remain in their posts.

Until now, only two others have been dismissed in connection with the outbreak: two officials from Huajiahe, a township about a two-hour drive west of Wuhan. They were ousted after a disabled teenager died after his father, his sole caregiver, was quarantined.

The Royal Caribbean cruise company on Monday rescinded its ban on Chinese passport holders onboard its ships.

But the company’s reversal is little comfort to one passenger, Xiao Liu.

Ms. Liu, a 34-year-old scientist at Princeton University, arrived at Port Canaveral, Fla., on Friday with her husband and 3-year-old daughter to board a cruise ship called Mariner of the Seas. A health care worker checked their temperatures and asked whether they had been in contact with anybody from mainland China recently. Though they answered no, the worker did not allow Ms. Liu on the cruise because she carries a Chinese passport.

“This is clearly racial discrimination,” said Ms. Liu, who moved to the United States 11 years ago. “What makes me different from other passengers? My Chinese passport!”

In its statement, Royal Caribbean said it banned passengers holding passports from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau because governments around the world were enacting similar limits. “Now, governmental policies have been clarified, so we have changed this policy,” it said on Twitter.

As the coronavirus has spread — including hitting other cruise ships — Chinese people around the world have faced instances of xenophobia.

Reporting and research was contributed by Austin Ramzy, Vivian Wang, Steven Lee Myers, Russell Goldman, Elaine Yu, Richard C. Paddock, Ben Dooley, Motoko Rich, Amber Wang, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Yiwei Wang, Claire Fu and Amy Qin. westlakelegal.com