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Xi says China faces ‘grave situation’ as virus death toll hits 42

BEIJING (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping said China was facing a “grave situation” as the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak jumped to 42, overshadowing Lunar New Year celebrations that began on Saturday.

China also announced further transport restrictions.

With more than 1,400 people infected worldwide, most of them in China, Hong Kong declared a virus emergency, scrapped celebrations and restricted links to mainland China.

Australia confirmed its first four cases and Canada its first on Saturday, after Malaysia confirmed four and France reported Europe’s first cases on Friday, as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a pandemic.

The United States is arranging a charter flight on Sunday to bring its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicenter of the outbreak, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said flights and high speed rail trips between the city and Wuhan will be halted. Schools in Hong Kong that are currently on Lunar New Year holidays will remain closed until Feb. 17.

Xi held a politburo meeting on Saturday on measures to fight the “accelerating” outbreak, state television reported.

As of 8 p.m. local time (1200 GMT) on Saturday, the death toll in China had risen to 42, authorities reported. Some 1,372 people in China have been infected with the virus – traced to a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife.

The virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, and the United States.

In Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, officials appealed for masks and protective suits.

“We are steadily pushing forward the disease control and prevention … But right now we are facing an extremely severe public health crisis,” Hu Yinghai, deputy director-general of the Civil Affairs Department, told a news briefing.

The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.

Ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing said it was halting inter-city services to and from Beijing from Sunday, while the capital will also stop running inter-province shuttle buses.

State broadcaster CCTV, citing an announcement from China’s tourism industry association, said the country would halt all group tours, both at home and abroad, from Monday.

Wuhan said it would ban non-essential vehicles from its downtown starting Sunday, further paralyzing a city of 11 million that has been on virtual lockdown since Thursday, with nearly all flights canceled and checkpoints blocking the main roads leading out of town.

Authorities have since imposed transport restrictions on nearly all of Hubei province, which has a population of 59 million.

PROTECTIVE SUITS

Australia confirmed its first four cases in two different cities on Saturday, and the country’s chief health official said he expected more cases as Australia is a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

Canada on Saturday identified its first case in a Toronto resident who recently returned from Wuhan.

State-run China Global Television Network reported on Saturday that a doctor who had been treating patients in Wuhan, 62-year-old Liang Wudong, had died from the virus.

Medical staff are seen at a hotel lobby where tourists from Hubei province, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, will have 14-day centralised medical observation, in Haikou, Hainan province, China January 25, 2020. cnsphoto via REUTERS

U.S. coffee chain Starbucks said it was closing all its Hubei outlets for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, following a similar move by McDonald’s in five Hubei cities.

Workers in white protective suits checked temperatures of passengers entering the subway at Beijing’s central railway station on Saturday, while some train services in the eastern Yangtze River Delta region were suspended, the local railway operator said.

‘GLOBAL HEALTH THREAT’

There are fears transmission could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel during the holiday, although many have canceled their plans.

Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings.

In an illustration of how such efforts could miss cases, doctors at a Paris hospital said two of the three Chinese nationals in France who have been diagnosed with the virus had arrived in the country without showing any symptoms.

The World Health Organization this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency.

A report by infectious disease specialists at Imperial College, London on Saturday said that despite this, the epidemic “represents a clear and ongoing global health threat,” adding: “It is uncertain at the current time whether it is possible to contain the continuing epidemic within China.”

While China has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after a cover-up of the 2002/2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) spread, officials in Wuhan have been criticized for their handling of the current outbreak.

In rare public dissent, a senior journalist at a Hubei newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party wrote on Friday on the Twitter-like Weibo social media platform that there should be an “immediate” change of leadership in Wuhan. The post was later removed.

Hubei province, where authorities are rushing to build a 1,000-bed hospital in six days, announced on Saturday that there were 658 patients affected by the virus in treatment, 57 of whom were critically ill.

Slideshow (30 Images)

Shanghai Disneyland was closed from Saturday. Beijing’s Lama Temple, where people make offerings for the New Year, has also closed, as have some other temples.

Britain advised against all travel to Hubei and told its citizens in the province to leave.

(GRAPHIC: The spread of a new coronavirus – here)

Reporting by Sophie Yu, Yilei Sun, Judy Hua, Roxanne Liu, Se Young Lee and Cate Cadell; Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, Yawen Chen in Beijing and Felix Tam in Hong Kong; Writing by Michael Perry and Frances Kerry; Editing by Sam Holmes, Giles Elgood, Hugh Lawson and Sandra Maler

Source: Reuters: World News
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Residents fret as China’s virus exclusion zone widens

CHANGSHA, China (Reuters) – Walking through the drizzle outside the railway station in the city of Changsha on Chinese New Year, local residents said it was only a matter of time before they became part of a lockdown aimed at containing China’s most lethal new contagious disease since 2003.

Passengers wearing masks are seen at the Changsha Railway Station, in Hunan province, China January 25, 2020. REUTERS/Martin Pollard

Changsha, home to 7 million people, remains on the outside of an ever-widening exclusion zone in central China as local governments try to stop the spread of a flu-like contagious disease that originated in the city of Wuhan about 355 km (220 miles) away and has already killed 42 people.

More than 10 cities in Hubei province have already been shut down, and local residents in neighboring Hunan – the home province of Mao Zedong – said they were resigned to the possibility that they would also be sealed off in the next few days.

“My first concern is for myself. I’m worried that the virus may infect me. I’m also worried about people in Hubei,” said Wang Junnan, a 23-year-old aviation safety officer from the city of Zhuzhou, about an hour from Changsha.

Nearly all cities in Hubei to the north cut transport links over the past two days after the provincial capital Wuhan, a city of 11 million where the outbreak started, imposed a lock-down.

“There isn’t much I can do. All I can do is have the mask on whenever I can,” Wang said.

“You can hardly find masks to buy at this moment.”

One pharmacy nearby had almost sold out, with the shop assistant saying they only had one “cheaper, less effective” mask left.

More than 1,300 people have been confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus, traced to a Wuhan seafood market illegally selling wildlife. The vast majority of cases have been in Hubei province.

Reuters journalists were briefly stuck in the city of Xianning, which neighbors Wuhan, when the city closed transport links on Friday night, the eve of the Lunar New Year. The departures board at the city’s railway station was blank, the ticket kiosk staffed by two women who said they could not sell tickets.

But local authorities in Hubei and neighboring Hunan do not yet appear to have developed a properly coordinated response to the crisis, with most cities choosing to try to seal their borders at all costs.

Xianning police urged Reuters journalists to head south to the city of Yueyang, which lies across the provincial border in Hunan, but Yueyang was sealed off by another police roadblock and dozens of cars trying to leave Hubei province were also forced to turn back.

However, in the early hours of Saturday morning, the route into Changsha, another 200 kilometers (125 miles) south, remained unblocked.

Residents said they expected tougher measures soon, as cities, transportation operators and businesses across China extended closures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

“I saw in the newspaper that someone was caught earlier today trying to leave Hubei and get to Hunan using the Didi application and they should be arrested,” said Wang.

“These measures are difficult, but they are necessary,” said Wang.

Hotel staff in Changsha also told Reuters they had received instructions not to allow anyone from Hubei province to book rooms.

Peng Aihua, a 71-year old Buddhist nun walking outside Changsha train station, remained phlegmatic, even though the disease has spread panic through the country.

“Why would death scare me?” she said. “I haven’t reached my time to die yet.”

Reporting by David Stanway and Martin Pollard in Changsha; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Sandra Maler

Source: Reuters: World News
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Rescuers dig for survivors after Turkey quake kills at least 29

ELAZIG, Turkey (Reuters) – Rescuers searched on Saturday for survivors trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings after a powerful earthquake hit eastern Turkey late on Friday, killing 29 people and injuring more than 1,400.

Turkish broadcasters showed footage of rescuers pulling people out from under the debris, some around 21 hours after the quake.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said an estimated 22 people were still trapped. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Authority (AFAD) said later that 43 people had been rescued so far.

The magnitude 6.8 quake shook Elazig province, about 550 km (340 miles) east of the capital Ankara, shortly before 9 p.m. (1800 GMT), and was followed by 462 aftershocks, according to AFAD.

Rescue teams worked through the night with their hands, drills and mechanical diggers to remove bricks and plaster from collapsed buildings in Elazig, where the overnight temperature dipped to -8 degrees Celsius (17.6°Fahrenheit). Similar cold was expected on Saturday night.

“Our houses collapsed … we cannot go inside them,” said a 32-year-old man from the town of Sivrice, epicenter of the quake.

“In our village some people lost their lives. I hope God will help us,” said the man, who gave only his first name, Sinasi. “Our animals died. Our families gathered around the fire to spend the night, covered with blankets,” Sinasi said as he and a relative tried to warm themselves by a small fire.

Twenty-five people were killed in Elazig and four more in the neighboring province of Malatya, AFAD said, adding 1,466 others were injured.

Health Minster Fahrettin Koca said 128 injured people were receiving treatment and that 34 of those were in intensive care, but not in critical condition.

A ‘TEST’ FOR TURKEY

President Tayyip Erdogan canceled his plans in Istanbul on Saturday and traveled to Elazig and Malatya to inspect rescue efforts. He also attended a funeral for a woman and her son killed in the quake, which he described as a “test” for Turkey.

Rescue workers search the site of a collapsed building after an earthquake in Elazig, Turkey, January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

“We are doing everything we can as the state and nation, and we will continue to do so. Our efforts at all rescue sites will continue,” he said at the funeral, adding state house developer TOKI would make sure no one was left “hungry or in the open”.

He said steel-framed houses would be rapidly built in the region to provide housing for displaced residents.

AFAD warned residents not to return to damaged buildings because of the danger of further aftershocks. It said beds, blankets and tents were sent to the area, where some people sheltered in sports halls.

Turkey’s Kizilay aid group also sent food, heaters and other materials to the region.

Officials had identified 514 heavily damaged and 409 lightly damaged buildings in Elazig and Malatya, AFAD said in a statement. It said there were also 72 collapsed structures in the two provinces.

Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said a prison in the nearby Adiyaman province was being evacuated due to damage to the building. He said the 814 inmates were being transferred to prisons in three nearby provinces, while the 126 inmates at a women’s prison in Elazig were also transferred.

On Friday night, Interior Minister Soylu described the quake as a “Level 3” incident according to the country’s emergency response plan, meaning it called for a national response but did not require international help.

LESSONS FROM THE PAST

Turkey had learnt lessons from previous disasters that helped it address Friday’s incident, he said.

Drones were deployed in search operations and to communicate between provinces.

Emergency teams and rescue equipment were sent from other provinces to Elazig, with thousands of rescuers and medical personnel on the ground to look for and help survivors.

Slideshow (14 Images)

Several municipalities sent supplies and officials to help in the aid effort. Turkish Airlines (THYAO.IS) put on additional flights to Elazig from Ankara and Istanbul to help transport rescuers.

Turkey, which straddles seismic faultlines, has a history of powerful earthquakes.

More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck the western city of Izmit, 90 km (55 miles) southeast of Istanbul. About 500,000 people were made homeless.

Reporting by Umit Ozdal in Elazig; Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Dominic Evans, Tuvan Gumrukcu, Omer Berberoglu, Mert Ozkan and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Michael Perry, Mark Potter and Frances Kerry

Source: Reuters: World News
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Coronavirus contagion rate makes it hard to control: studies

LONDON (Reuters) – Each person infected with coronavirus is passing the disease on to between two and three other people on average at current transmission rates, according to two separate scientific analyses of the epidemic.

People wearing protective masks walk outside Forbidden City which is closed to visitors, according to a notice in its main entrance for the safety concern following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, in Beijing, China January 25, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Whether the outbreak will continue to spread at this rate depends on the effectiveness of control measures, the scientists who conducted the studies said. But to be able to contain the epidemic and turn the tide of infections, control measures would have to halt transmission in at least 60% of cases.

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak jumped to 41 on Saturday, with more than 1,400 people infected worldwide – the vast majority in China.

“It is unclear at the current time whether this outbreak can be contained within China,” said Neil Ferguson, an infectious disease specialist at Imperial College London who co-led one of the studies.

Ferguson’s team suggest as many as 4,000 people in Wuhan were already infected by Jan. 18 and that on average each case was infecting two or three others.

A second study by researchers at Britain’s Lancaster University also calculated the contagion rate at 2.5 new people on average being infected by each person already infected.

“Should the epidemic continue unabated in Wuhan, we predict (it) will be substantially larger by Feb. 4,” the scientists wrote.

They estimated that the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the outbreak began in December will alone have around 190,000 cases of infection by Feb. 4., and that “infection will be established in other Chinese cities, and importations to other countries will be more frequent.”

Raina MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Research Program at the Kirby Institute, at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said on Saturday that it is highly concerning that in recent days the infection has become widespread.

“The more widespread the infection in other parts of the China, the greater the risk of more global spread,” MacIntyre said.

Australia, a popular destination for Chinese visitors, confirmed its first four cases of the virus in travelers from China, all of whom had been to Wuhan.

“What we need is more data to be published on risk factors, transmission, incubation period and epidemiology, so we can understand what control measures are most appropriate,” MacIntyre said.

Reporting by Kate Kelland; Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by David Holmes and Sandra Maler

Source: Reuters: World News
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Canada identifies first presumptive confirmed case of coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a mask walks past a quarantine notice about the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China at an arrival hall of Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan, January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada declared on Saturday that Toronto Public Health has received notification of the first presumptive confirmed case of coronavirus in a resident who recently returned from Wuhan, a city in the Hubei province in central China, the government said in a statement.

“The individual is stable and is hospitalized” the statement added.

The individual arrived in Toronto on Jan. 22 and was hospitalized the next day after developing symptoms of respiratory illness.

The victim is a man in his 50s and Ontario health officials said he took private transportation home after getting down at Toronto airport.

Ontario health officials said his family members have been put into self isolation, though the government declined to give the number of people in the family.

Coronavirus has infected more than 1,400 people worldwide with most of them in China.

Australia confirmed its first four cases of the new coronavirus in two different cities on Saturday.

Malaysia confirmed four and France reported Europe’s first cases on Friday, as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a pandemic.

Reporting by Aishwarya Nair in Bengaluru and Denny Thomas in Toronto ; Editing by Diane Craft

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And Congress Shall Be King

Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler on Thursday summed up the case for ousting President Trump this way: “Simply stated, impeachment is the Constitution’s final answer to a President who mistakes himself for a king.” Which brings us to the case Democrats made Friday for their second article of impeachment charging “obstruction of Congress.” This would make Congress a king.

The remarkable House claim is that Mr. Trump violated the Constitution because he dared to resist Congressional subpoenas. He cited executive privilege to direct…

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Jeff Bezos Tries to Wag the Dog

Jeff Bezos’s extramarital affair is the type of story that sometimes ties the media into knots. What was leaked was potentially less newsworthy than who leaked it and why. Because the media is reluctant to inquire into each other’s sources, such stories often go unreported. This case was an exception, at least for a while. The National Enquirer is a disreputable supermarket tabloid, and Mr. Bezos strongly suggested it was in cahoots with a foreign power, Saudi Arabia, and possibly the Trump administration.

So let’s note what…

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Let the Games Begin—and Politics Pause

Those protesting the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban political statements by participating athletes make several familiar arguments, all of them bad. The principal one is that since politics already saturates the Olympics—the parade of national flags, the contest between cities vying to host—the ban is incoherent and hypocritical, and the attempted interdiction of political speech is itself a political act.

No it isn’t. Declaring a politics-free zone is simply an assertion that one kind of activity is appropriate…

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U.S. Hospitals Aren’t Ready for the Coronavirus

No one knows whether the coronavirus will substantially threaten the U.S., where it has already been detected, but one thing is certain: American hospitals aren’t ready for the deadly virus or a future global contagion. Travelers from China’s Wuhan region are being diverted to five U.S. airports, where they can be screened. That’s sensible, but it’s no substitute for improving hospital readiness.

If the virus becomes a domestic threat, American public safety will depend on what hospitals do when someone unknowingly infected…

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Elizabeth Warren Meets an Irate Dad

Presidential campaigns always try to stay on script, but the handshake game in early states still offers interesting spontaneity. Case in point: After an Elizabeth Warren event this week in Grimes, Iowa, a voter challenged her plan to forgive student debt.

It’s all captured on tape. As C-Span’s camera rolls, a man approaches Ms. Warren and says hello: “I just wanted to ask one question. My daughter’s getting out of school. I’ve saved all my money. She doesn’t have any student loans.” Ms. Warren nods and says, “God bless you.”

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