Coronavirus: infections spread in GBA

Two more cities in the Greater Bay Area – Zhongshan and Zhaoqing – have confirmed their first infections of the Wuhan coronavirus, while new cases have cropped up in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macau.

A total of 32 cases were confirmed in Guangdong as of Wednesday midnight, according to the Guangdong Health Commission. They include five in Guangzhou, 15 in Shenzhen, four in Zhuhai, two in Shaoguan, two in Zhanjiang, and one each in Foshan, Huizhou, Zhongshan and Zhaoqing. Fifteen are in critical condition, while four have no recorded history of visiting or living in Wuhan, the epicentre of the pneumonia outbreak, which was put under general quarantine today.

The total number of confirmed cases surged to a total of 571 as of Wednesday, with the virus spread to 25 out of the nation’s 34 provincial-level administrative units, according to the National Health Commission. As the death toll climbed from 9 to 17 on Wednesday – all in Hubei province – no fatal cases have been reported in Guangdong. 

Wuhan’s closure is the first time a mainland city has been shut down – for non-political reasons – since the founding of the PRC in 1949. The airport and train station are closed, and all roads have been blocked. It is effectively a quarantine of around 11 million people.

In Macau, the Chief Executive, Ho Iat-seng, has warned that the city’s casinos could be closed if the virus gets out of hand.

Hong Kong has confirmed its first two infections of the coronavirus, after reporting more than a hundred suspected cases over the past few weeks. The first case was a 39-year-old mainland tourist who arrived in the city by high-speed rail from Wuhan on Tuesday, while the other was a 56-year-old man, as reported by SCMP, also with a record of visiting Wuhan. Both have been moved to Princess Margaret Hospital.

Hong Kong health authorities have set up a hotline to trace passengers on the same carriage as the first patient, and people in close contact would be kept in quarantine, said Director of Health Constance Chan Hon-yee on Wednesday night.

Macau confirmed its second infection today. The patient, a 66-year-old male tourist arriving the city from Wuhan on Wednesday, was detected with a fever at the border checkpoint and sent to Conde S. Januário Hospital, Macau News reported.

Macau’s tourism board has cancelled all Chinese New Year celebrations, including a firework show and a parade. All casinos in the city could be closed if the situation got worse, said Macau’s Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng.

Guan Yi, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong, whose research helped contain the SARS outbreak in 2003, warned there was a potential for the virus to spread even more rapidly despite the control measures, as Chinese authorities already missed the best time to contain the outbreak and people continue to travel during the week-long Chinese New Year holiday. 

The scale of the novel coronavirus outbreak could be growing to be much larger than that of SARS in 2002 and 2003, said Guan in an interview with Caixin today.

01/22/2020

Hong Kong is likely to confirm its first infected case of Wuhan coronavirus, a male arriving in the city on Tuesday night by high-speed rail from Wuhan, according to local media. He is currently at a local hospital for further tests. Further details are expected to be revealed at a press conference held by the city’s health minister tonight.

Concern is focused on the West Kowloon Station, terminus of high-speed rail linked to the mainland, which is connected to multiple metro lines and bus routes in Hong Kong, with some 50,000 daily passengers.

Hong Kong has stepped up its detection measures through the use of health declaration forms at the airport and expanded monitoring of suspected cases from Hubei province, SCMP reported. Local schools have taken extra precautions with increasing cleaning efforts, body temperature checks on visitors, and questions on pupils on their Lunar New Year travel.

Dr. Ho Pak-leung, head of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection, urged the government to set up individual clinics for cases with symptoms of fever, in a radio interview with RTHK on Tuesday. He warned of the emergence of “super-spreader”, who could infect many others within a short period of time at the most virulent stage of infection. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, the first confirmed case in Hong Kong had infected 16 people overnight.

Macau also reported the city’s first confirmed case of Wuhan coronavirus today, according to Radio Macau. The 52-year-old woman, who travelled from Wuhan to Macau on Sunday night, had reportedly stayed at local casinos, hotels and restaurants. She is now being kept in quarantine along with two other people with whom she travelled.

But Macau residents should use health masks “only when needed”, for instance, if they work in casinos, have more contact with visitors, or when they go to the hospitals, said Director of Macau’s Health Bureau Lei Chin Ion, as quoted today by Macau Business.

Macau authorities had also asked gaming operators to continue health preventive measures, including body temperature checks and health masks distribution to workers, Macau Business reported.

In Guangdong, 12 news confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported as of Tuesday midnight, up from 14 cases on Monday. However, two out of the 12 new cases have no records of visiting or living in Wuhan, where the coronavirus is originated, showing signs of a further human-to-human spread in the region.

Among the total of 26 confirmed cases reported so far in Guangdong, there are 14 in Shenzhen, two in Guangzhou, four in Zhuhai, two in Shaoguan, two in Zhanjiang, and one each in Foshan and Huizhou, according to the provincial health authorities. Ten of them are in critical condition.

While the death toll in Wuhan has climbed to nine, the good news is that no fatal cases have been reported in Guangdong, the second largest base for the pneumonia outbreak. The total number of confirmed cases has risen to 440 by Tuesday midnight, according to the National Health Commission.

In an effort to contain the outbreak, Guangzhou had started to monitor passengers’ body temperatures from late Tuesday across its public transportation network, with staff holding body temperature scanners at bus and metro stations, southcn.com reported.

01/21/2020

The mysterious coronavirus that originated in central China’s Wuhan has continued spreading to a couple of provinces across China as well as neighbouring Asian countries. A total of 291 confirmed infections have been revealed in the mainland up to Monday midnight, with 258 from Wuhan. So far six deaths have been reported from the city, two added on Monday, while 25 have been discharged. 

Guangdong has recorded 14 confirmed infections of the coronavirus, among which 13 were added on Monday and one on Sunday. That makes it the province with the second-largest and fastest-growing number of infections, only after Hubei (home to Wuhan). Among the newly-added cases, there were eight in Shenzhen, three in Zhuhai and one each in Zhanjiang and Huizhou. So far, no fatal cases have been reported in the province.

The first new case, revealed in Shenzhen early Sunday, was a 66-year-old man who visited Wuhan on December 29, 2019 and reported symptoms of fever five days later. However, it took the local health authority 15 days to confirm his infection, raising concern about the potential transmission over the period.

What has caused further alarm among the public is the occurrence of human-to-human transmissions in both Wuhan and Zhuhai, as first revealed late Monday by Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert at the National Health Commission who helped discovered the SARS outbreak in 2003. In Zhuhai, a couple in their seventies transmitted the virus to their 49-year-old daughter, who reportedly has not been to Wuhan recently. In Wuhan, 15 medics have been confirmed by the local health authority as having been infected, along with another suspected case.

Macau’s health authority has reported 13 suspected cases coming from Wuhan since January 1 and ruled out all of them as common influenza infections, Macau Daily News reported.

In Hong Kong, a total of 106 suspected cases have been revealed by the Department of Health up to Tuesday noon, local media hk01 reported, although none has been confirmed as the infection of the same coronavirus in Wuhan.

Meanwhile, Zhong reassured that the pneumonia outbreak will not likely evolve into something as deadly as the SARS coronavirus in 2002-2003.

“It’s not as infectious and toxic as SARS,” said Zhong in an interview with the state broadcaster CCTV late Monday. “The two (viruses) are still quite different in terms of severity and transmissibility.”

Judging from initial epidemic analysis, Zhong said, the source of the new coronavirus is very likely to be wild animals sold in Wuhan’s seafood market, where the first case was found.

This preliminary conclusion was similar to that of the SARS coronavirus 17 years ago, whose source was found in masked palm civets sold in local food markets of Guangdong and later upgraded to human-to-human transmission.

However, it remains a concern that the mainland authorities are under-reporting the number of infections, as happened during the SARS outbreak which led to a delay in treatment and the death of almost 800 people worldwide. This is despite a warning from the central government not to do so, with President Xi Jinping himself weighing in. 

A study by Imperial College London, released last Friday, estimated that a total of 1,723 cases had seen moderate to severe respiratory problems caused by the virus, while the latest report by the medicine school of the University of Hong Kong put the number at 1,343 by January 17. In Wuhan, by contrast, local media are focused on upcoming Chinese New Year banquets even while social media reports indicate that the city is on high alert and outbound travel restrictions have been imposed at the train station and airport.

01/20/2020

The common flu probably kills more people every year than those that died from a single attack of SARS in the winter of 2002-2003. Try telling that to someone who lost a healthy friend or relative to the deadly pneumonia-like disease, however. There were few such cases back then – most victims were elderly –  but a few were enough. Their deaths demonstrated the ability of the coronavirus to mutate and grow, sometimes severely. That resulted in Hong Kong, Macau and, eventually, much of Guangdong going into voluntary lockdown mode, causing widespread damage to the tourism industry. Cross-border travel dried up while MTR stations were emptied, airports deserted, hotel bookings cancelled, shops closed.

It is understandable, therefore, that the WHO’s announcement of new deaths in Wuhan related to the virus, and the acknowledgment of possible human transmission, albeit limited, may have scared travelers and investors alike today. It should come as no surprise to learn that more cities have reported cases of the virus, or that it has infected over 200 people so far (that we know of). It should not be cause for panic that there has been another death, or that the WHO thinks the virus has been transmitted between humans. Yet it will be hard, nevertheless, to manage the contagion of fear if this virus turns out to be as powerful as SARS was in 2002-2003.

The timing could not be worse, coming just as the country is well into its annual pilgrimage season ahead of Chinese New Year. Health authorities on the mainland have a track record of not managing information flow well in these situations, and so it is hard for anyone not to be alarmed as the travel numbers grow. 

There is not much more that can be said about the Wuhan coronavirus at this stage. Any news needs to be monitored carefully. We will keep writing updates here in this live blog as reports warrant it over the coming days.

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