China's virus cases top 20K as Hong Kong reports 1st death

Passengers wearing masks arrive to the Sao Paulo International Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil,...
Passengers wearing masks arrive to the Sao Paulo International Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Passengers and airport workers are voluntarily wearing masks as a precautionary measure amid an outbreak of the coronavirus that started in China. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)(GIM)
Published: Feb. 3, 2020 at 7:38 AM EST
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China says the number of infections from a new virus has surpassed 20,000 as medical workers and patients arrived at a new hospital and President Xi Jinping said “we have launched a people’s war of prevention of the epidemic.”

Xi presided over a special meeting of the top Communist Party body, saying the country must race against time to curb the spread of the virus.

Hong Kong reported its first death from the illness and shut almost all of its land and sea border crossings with the mainland after medical workers began a strike demanding the border be closed completely. Their union has threatened a bigger walkout Tuesday.

Japanese officials were deciding whether to quarantine more than 3,000 people on a cruise ship that carried a passenger who tested positive for the virus.

Chinese health authorities reported 425 deaths and 20,438 confirmed cases on Monday.

DHS: New screening to begin amid coronavirus concerns

The Department of Homeland Security is warning airline passengers that their flights may wind up rerouted if officials discover mid-flight that someone onboard has been in China in the last 14 days.

The warning comes as the U.S. steps up its response to the coronavirus outbreak. There have been 11 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., mostly involving recent travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.

DHS guidance was included in a notice released by the department Sunday as new travel restrictions officially go into effect for flights commencing after 5 p.m. ET.

U.S. citizens who have been to China in the last two weeks will have to be rerouted to one of eight designated airports to undergo enhanced health screening procedures. The airports are: Los Angeles International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma, San Francisco, Chicago O’Hare, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, John F. Kennedy in New York, Washington-Dulles and Daniel K. Inouye in Honolulu.

Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Detroit Metropolitan Airport will be added to the list starting Monday.

And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that a “handful" of flights will be heading to China to bring Americans back home from Hubei Province, which is at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak.”

China opens virus hospital, market plunges as toll grows

China is sending medical workers and equipment to a newly built hospital, infusing cash into financial markets and further restricting people’s movement in sweeping new steps to contain a rapidly spreading virus and its escalating impact.

China’s updated figures of 361 deaths and 2,829 new cases over the last 24 hours, bringing the Chinese total to 17,205 cases, come as other countries continued evacuations and restricted travel by Chinese or people who recently traveled in the country.

Reopening of schools was also delayed in Hubei, the province at the epicenter of the outbreak, where a specialized 1,000-bed hospital started treating patients and a second hospital with 1,500 beds for patients with the new virus will open within days.

A person who was a passenger on a Japanese-operated cruise ship has tested positive for the new virus after leaving the ship in Hong Kong on Jan. 25.

The ship returned to Yokohama carrying 3,000 passengers and crew members after making port calls in Vietnam, Taiwan and Okinawa. A team of quarantine officials and medical staff boarded the ship on Monday night and began medical checks of everyone on board, a health ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

He said some people on the ship have developed coughs, fevers and other symptoms, though they were not yet linked to the virus. The passengers and crew members may be quarantined on the ship if the captain agrees to do so, the official said.

The United Arab Emirates, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways, is suspending flights to mainland China outside of Beijing.

The country’s state-run WAM news agency made the announcement Monday.

It said the flight suspension would begin Wednesday.

Those flying from Beijing will be subject “to a six-to-eight hour comprehensive medical screening at the airport to ensure the safety of passengers before boarding.”

The UAE has five confirmed cases of the new virus, all from Chinese tourists to the Arabian Peninsula nation.

The UAE has held off on the flight ban as it hopes Chinese tourism and investment will boost its sagging economy.

Scientists say virus may have come from bats

Chinese scientists say they have more evidence that the new virus that recently emerged in China likely originated in bats. In two papers published Monday in the journal Nature, scientists report that genome sequences from several patients in Wuhan show the virus is closely related to the viruses that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

In one study, Shi Zhen-Li and colleagues at the Wuhan Institute of Virology reported that genome sequences from seven patients were 96% identical to a bat coronavirus. SARS is also believed to originate in bats, although it jumped to civet cats before infecting people in the 2002-2003 international outbreak. Although scientists suspect the latest virus outbreak in China began at a seafood market in Wuhan where wild animals were on sale and in contact with people, the animal source has not yet been pinpointed.

“In essence, it’s a version of SARS that spreads more easily but causes less damage,” said Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading who was not connected to the two studies. “The virus also uses the same receptor, the door used to get into human cells, which explains transmission and why it causes pneumonia,” he said in a statement.

WHO working with Google to combat virus misinformation

The World Health Organization is working with Google to ensure that people get facts from WHO first when they search for information about the new virus that recently emerged in China.

Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Tencent and TikTok have also taken steps to limit the spread of misinformation and rumors about the virus.

It first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December and has now spread to 23 other countries. Since the outbreak began, a number of misleading claims and hoaxes about the virus have circulated online.

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