New Cases Are Reported as Beijing Sets New Rules

Credit…Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times

Chinese state-run television announced on its website on Friday evening that everyone returning to Beijing would be required to isolate themselves for 14 days.

Anyone who does not comply “shall be held accountable according to law,” according to a text of the order released by state television. The order was issued by a Communist Party “leading group” at the municipal level, not the national Communist Party.

It was the latest sign that China’s leaders were still struggling to set the right balance between restarting the economy and continuing to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the country’s top officials met and issued orders that included a mandate to help people to return to workplaces from their hometowns. Tens of millions had gone home to celebrate Lunar New Year holidays before the government acknowledged the seriousness of the epidemic. They have faced local government checkpoints on the way back to work and then lengthy quarantines upon their return to big cities.

But while national leaders may be worried that travel restrictions and quarantines may be preventing companies from finding enough workers to resume full production, that did not stop Beijing municipal leaders from further tightening controls on Friday evening in the city.

The policy may reduce the chances that people returning from the hinterlands could infect the country’s elite.

The new rules also require those returning to the city to give advance warning of their arrival to the authorities in their residential area. China maintained extensive controls on citizens’ movements under Mao, and some of the institutions and rules from that period have been re-emerging lately.

Even before Beijing issued its new rules, so-called neighborhood committees had been playing an increasingly assertive role across the country, including in Shanghai. They have been demanding that recent returnees isolate themselves for 14 days upon arrival, venturing out for little except food.

In the hospital where Yu Yajie works, nurses, doctors and other medical professionals fighting the new coronavirus have also been fighting dire shortages. They have used tape to patch up battered protective masks, repeatedly reused goggles meant for one-time use, and wrapped their shoes in plastic bags for lack of specialized coverings.

Ms. Yu is now lying at home, feverish and fearful that she has been infected with the virus. She and other employees at the hospital said a lack of effective protective wear had left medical workers like her vulnerable in Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the heart of the epidemic that has engulfed this region.

“There are risks — there simply aren’t enough resources,” Ms. Yu, an administrator at Wuhan Central Hospital, said in a brief telephone interview, adding that she was too weak to speak at length.

Chinese medical workers at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus epidemic are often becoming its victims, in part because of government missteps and logistical hurdles.

The strength — or vulnerability — of China’s medical workers could shape how well the Communist Party weathers its worst political crisis in years. Li Wenliang, a doctor, died from the coronavirus last week, after he had been punished by the police for warning friends of the outbreak. His death ignited a wave of fury in China, where he was lionized as a medical martyr to officials who put political control ahead of health.

Infections and deaths continued to climb after the government this week changed the criteria by which it tracks cases. Officials early Saturday reported 2,641 new coronavirus cases and 143 additional deaths in the previous 24 hours.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • 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.

Most of the new cases and deaths were reported in Hubei Province, the center of the epidemic

In all, more than 66,000 people have been infected and at least 1,523 killed worldwide. The vast majority of cases are in mainland China, with the heaviest concentration there in Hubei, the center of the epidemic.

The tally in Hubei jumped drastically on Thursday after the authorities changed the diagnostic criteria for counting new cases. The government now takes into account cases diagnosed in clinical settings, including the use of CT scans, and not just those confirmed with specialized testing kits.

Health officials in the United States will begin testing some people with flulike symptoms for infection with the coronavirus.

Patients in five cities will be tested if their flu tests are negative, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at a news briefing on Friday.

Health officials will use a nationwide surveillance network already set up to track influenza, she said. The five cities are Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle.

“We need to be prepared for the possibility it will spread,” Dr. Messonnier said.

So far, there have been 15 coronavirus cases in the United States.

They had recorded dozens of videos from Wuhan, streaming unfiltered and often heartbreaking images from the center of the outbreak. Long lines outside hospitals. Feeble patients. Agonized relatives.

Now, two video bloggers whose dispatches from the heart of the outbreak showed fear, grief and dissatisfaction with the government have gone silent.

Videos made by Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi were another manifestation of the dissatisfaction that the government’s handling of the outbreak has unleashed among ordinary Chinese citizens.

A 40-minute video about the coronavirus outbreak propelled Mr. Fang, a local clothing salesman, to internet fame. Then, less than two weeks later, he disappeared.

Friends and family of Mr. Chen, a lawyer from eastern China, said they believed he had been forcibly quarantined.

The first coronavirus case on the African continent was reported in Egypt on Saturday when the Egyptian health ministry reported that an infected person had been placed in isolation in a hospital.

In a statement, the ministry said the patient was a foreigner but did not specify a nationality. The World Health Organization in Egypt said on Twitter that the person was carrying the virus but had not shown any symptoms.

Several African countries have stepped up screening at airports and other ports of entry in recent weeks over fears that nations with weak health care systems, especially those already battling diseases like malaria and ebola, are particularly vulnerable.

Sixteen countries have the capacity to test for the coronavirus and another 20 will come online by Feb. 20, Dr. John Nkengasong, director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Friday.

China and Africa have become intertwined in the last two decades as China has expanded its political, economic, and military ties to Africa, attracting large numbers of Chinese workers to the continent and increasing the risk of the virus spreading there.

International Olympic Committee officials on Friday said that the Summer Games in Tokyo would go on as planned, citing discussions with the World Health Organization.

“Certainly the advice we have received externally from the W.H.O. is that there is no case for any contingency plans or canceling the games or moving the games,” John Coates, the head of an I.O.C. inspection team, told reporters. Asked if he was “100 percent confident” that the Games would take place, Mr. Coates said “Yes.”

A spokesman for the World Health Organization said in an emailed statement that the organization was not advising that large gatherings be canceled.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the head of the W.H.O.’s Health Emergencies Program, told reporters at a briefing on Friday that experts were monitoring the situation and no final guidance had been given on the matter.

“It’s not the role of W.H.O. to call off or not call off any event,” Mr. Ryan said, adding that the organization was offering technical advice about risk assessment and response measures.

The Games are scheduled to take place between July 24 and Aug. 9 this summer in Japan, the country that has endured the largest number of coronavirus cases outside China — over 250, including 218 aboard a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama. On Thursday, Japanese authorities announced the country’s first death of a patient who had contracted the virus.

And on Friday, Japan’s health ministry announced that a local government official who earlier this week helped transfer patients with the coronavirus from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Most of the 3,400 anxious passengers and crew of the ship remain onboard in quarantine. More are getting sick — possibly infecting one another — and health officials have raised the possibility of prolonging the quarantine, now set to expire next Wednesday.

The government official, a man in his thirties, helped transfer infected patients from the cruise ship on Monday afternoon, the health ministry said in a statement. The transportation process took about 40 minutes and the man was wearing goggles and a mask.

A senior health official in Wuhan has called on residents who have recovered from the coronavirus to donate blood plasma, believing their naturally produced antibodies could be used to treat sick patients.

Dr. Zhang Dingyu, the director of the Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, made his appeal on Thursday after Chinese researchers said they believed that such antibody treatments could help people recover from the virus.

The search for a drug capable of treating or curing the virus has frustrated researchers, as rates of infection and deaths continue to mount.

The government is prescribing a combination of antiviral drugs and traditional Chinese medicine. But on Thursday, China National Biotec Group, a state-owned company under the Ministry of Health, said it had found that administering a round of human antibodies from the survivors to more than 10 critically ill patients caused inflammation levels to drop significantly after 12 to 24 hours of treatment.

The economic repercussions of the coronavirus outbreak became more visible in Europe on Friday after Fiat Chrysler Automobiles shut down a factory in Serbia because of shortages of parts made in China.

Fiat said Friday that supply problems prompted it to move forward the dates of a planned shutdown at the plant in Kragujevac, Serbia, which produces Fiat 500 subcompact cars.

The shutdown, apparently the first by a carmaker in Europe caused by coronavirus, will add to concerns that the outbreak could sap what little growth the Continent has been able to muster recently.

Facebook said on Friday that it is canceling its Global Marketing Summit in San Francisco next month because of coronavirus concerns.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we canceled our Global Marketing Summit due to evolving public health risks related to coronavirus,” Anthony Harrison, a Facebook spokesman said in a statement.

The company had invited marketing partners from around the world to the conference, scheduled for March 9-12 at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Local officials said they were disappointed by the decision.

“A short-term cancellation will have an impact on hotels, restaurants, retail stores and attractions,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and chief executive of San Francisco Travel Association, the convention and visitors bureau that books events at the Moscone Center.

A Hong Kong clinic designated to treat suspected coronavirus cases suffered a second arson attack early Friday, officials said.

Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority said it “seriously condemned” the attack, against an outpatient clinic in the New Territories district of Tsuen Wan. A police spokeswoman said it had occurred overnight and left a door charred. The first attack, on Saturday afternoon, damaged an air-conditioner. No one was wounded in either attack.

The clinic is about four miles from an apartment building where dozens of residents were evacuated this week after two residents on different floors were found to be infected, raising fresh fears about how the virus spreads. (Officials said an unsealed pipe might be to blame.)

There were 56 confirmed cases in the city as of Friday. Fearing a wider outbreak, residents have been staging small-scale protests at several clinics assigned to treat people with mild symptoms of the virus. Late last month, the government shelved a plan to turn an unoccupied housing project into a quarantine facility after protesters set a fire in the lobby.

As public anger and anxiety mount, the Beijing-backed government has been accused by many residents of not doing enough to contain the spread of the virus, including the refusal to quickly order a complete shutdown of the border with mainland China. The authorities have gradually restricted arrivals from mainland China over the past few weeks.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said on Friday that her administration would do its best to repatriate more than 2,000 of the city’s residents stranded in Hubei province and aboard the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship quarantined off Japan’s coast.

The coronavirus has killed more than 1,500 and infected tens of thousands in China. Those are alarming statistics, but a much more common illness, influenza, kills about 400,000 every year, including 34,200 Americans last flu season and 61,099 the year before.

There remains deep uncertainty about the new coronavirus’s fatality rate, with the high-end estimate that it is up to 20 times that of the flu, but some estimates are much lower, putting it on par with the flu for those affected outside of China’s overwhelmed Hubei Province.

But whatever the metrics, the mind has its own ways of measuring danger.

Experts used to believe that people gauged risk like actuaries, parsing out cost-benefit analyses every time a merging car came too close or local crime rates spiked. But a wave of psychological experiments in the 1980s upended this thinking.

Researchers instead found that people use a set of mental shortcuts for measuring danger. And they tend to do it unconsciously, meaning that instinct can play a large role.

The coronavirus, which has created a wave of fear, may be a case in point.

“This hits all the hot buttons that lead to heightened risk perception,” said Paul Slovic, a University of Oregon psychologist.

At least five people fled coronavirus quarantine across Russia, local news media reported on Friday, citing frustration, erratic and inconsistent government policies, and bad conditions in the hospitals where they were held.

Alla Ilyina, 32, a woman from St. Petersburg, had enough patience to stay for only one day at a hospital in Russia’s second-largest city. She detailed how she had broken a lock in her room and sneaked away while doctors were distracted by another patient.

“I am a reasonable person, if someone told me that there was a suspicion, if doctors didn’t tell me that I was healthy, if I had not done three tests in separate hospitals, I would sit there,” Ms. Ilyina told reporters in an interview, broadcast on Russian television. “I don’t want to infect my relatives or threaten anybody, but I just don’t understand why an absolutely healthy person should be held somewhere.”

Three more people escaped quarantine in the same hospital, reported on Friday.

In the city of Samara, Guzel Neder, 34, escaped through the window of another hospital. After staying in quarantine for four days, Mrs. Neder called a testing center and a specialist said if she hadn’t received a positive result within two hours, “then you should be fine.”

“My son already felt well, he didn’t have any fever symptoms, but doctors deliberately made us stay for longer, so that we wouldn’t leave, to ‘fulfill the order’ of isolating people, coming from China,” she said. She described conditions at the hospital, where doctors didn’t wear any protective gear.

Reporting and research was contributed by Keith Bradsher, Ivan Nechepurenko, Tariq Panja, Roni Rabin, Sui-Lee Wee, Choe Sang-Hun, Richard C. Paddock, Elaine Yu, Motoko Rich, Lin Qiqing, Karen Zraick, Amie Tsang, Amber Wang, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Yiwei Wang, Gillian Wong, Davey Alba, David Yaffe-Bellany, Denise Grady, Declan Walsh, Simon Marks and Claire Fu.

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