China Deaths Jump as Measures Fail to Slow Spread of Virus
People with protective masks stand outside the Gongbei Port boarder crossing in Macau, China. (Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg)

China Deaths Jump as Measures Fail to Slow Spread of Virus

(Bloomberg) -- China’s death toll from the coronavirus climbed to at least 80 as the country extended the Lunar New Year holiday in an effort to contain an infection whose spread accelerated around the globe.

Premier Li Keqiang visited Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the disease, on Monday as the government faces pressure to combat the epidemic. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he’s heading to Beijing to meet with the government and assess the response.

China Deaths Jump as Measures Fail to Slow Spread of Virus

Chinese authorities said the virus isn’t yet under control despite aggressive steps to limit movement for millions of people who live in cities near the center of the outbreak.

Deaths in China climbed to 80, the National Health Commission said on Monday. That’s up from only two just over a week ago. There are 2,744 confirmed cases on China’s mainland, and more than 30,000 people are under observation.

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Asian stocks, crude oil and China’s yuan tumbled. Futures on Chinese shares fell more than 5% and 10-year Treasury yields hit their lowest since October on haven buying. Stock and futures trading in China, closed for the longer Lunar New Year holiday, will resume on Feb. 3, according to people familiar with the matter. Trading had been expected to resume this coming Friday.

Shares of European luxury-goods companies whose growth has been driven by Chinese consumers, including LVMH, Kering SA and Burberry Group Plc, also traded lower, while U.S. stock futures pointed to further declines.

Anxiety is growing amid evidence that the disease has an incubation period of as long as two weeks before those infected start to show signs of the illness. That raises the possibility that people who are carrying the virus but don’t show symptoms could infect others.

“The virus can be contagious during the incubation period, which is about 10 days, with the shortest being one day and longest being 14 days,” Ma Xiaowei, Minister of National Health Commission, told a press conference on Sunday. “This is very different from SARS.”

China extended the Lunar New Year break, when hundreds of millions of Chinese leave cities to return to their hometowns, in an effort to prevent travelers from contributing to the spread. It also canceled February exams that Chinese students need to enter schools and universities overseas.

Mainland China accounts for 98% of confirmed global infections, while more than a dozen countries and territories reported the illness within their borders. The WHO said that of 29 patients with infections outside China, 26 traveled through Wuhan.

China Deaths Jump as Measures Fail to Slow Spread of Virus

The Geneva-based organization last week stopped short of calling the coronavirus a global health emergency but said it could reassess if the situation took a turn for the worse.

Scientists are racing to understand the virus better, how contagious it is and where it comes from. First detected in Wuhan last month, it has sparked fears that the disease could rival SARS, which claimed almost 800 lives 17 years ago.

China’s national medical products administration has granted emergency approval to test kits developed by four companies, without identifying them, to meet growing demand, the regulator announced Sunday.

Meanwhile, a clinical trial is under way using anti-HIV drugs ritonavir and lopinavir to treat cases of the new coronavirus, according to an article published in the Lancet medical journal Friday. Beijing’s municipal health commission said on Sunday the drugs made by AbbVie Inc. are part of the National Health Commission’s latest treatment plan, and its hospitals have supplies of the medicine if needed.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough or chest tightness, and difficulty breathing.

Wuhan Shutdown

Wuhan, a major hub in central China, remained effectively shut down as authorities last week suspended public transport as well as outbound flights and train services, and nearby municipalities also restricted the use of transport and public sites.

Premier Li visited the city on Monday to investigate the virus prevention work and give support to patients and medical staff, according to the government’s website. In a video circulated on Chinese social media, Li could be seen wearing a mask, telling the crowds that “we will definitely have 20,000 medical goggles delivered tonight.”

More than 1,600 people will be sent to Wuhan over the next few days to assist in efforts to contain the spread.

The U.S. consulate in Wuhan plans to evacuate some Americans in a charter flight on Tuesday, while France and Japan have also said they’re looking to repatriate citizens.

Efforts were also put in place to stem the virus’s spread beyond mainland China. The Chinese government is banning all outgoing overseas group tours as of Monday after suspending domestic group tours last week. Mongolia closed its border crossing with China for autos and pedestrians.

Hong Kong officials announced the city would bar residents of Hubei province, where Wuhan is based, from entering the former British colony. Malaysia said it’s temporarily taking similar steps.

More patients around the globe tested positive for the coronavirus, with France reporting three cases and Canada and Cambodia disclosing their first. Australia confirmed a fifth case of coronavirus on Monday. Hong Kong said it now has eight patients, one of whose condition worsened to serious from stable.

China Deaths Jump as Measures Fail to Slow Spread of Virus

The U.S. has five cases, with three confirmed within 24 hours: two in Southern California and one in Maricopa County, Arizona. All the patients had recently been in Wuhan and are hospitalized. Their close contacts are being monitored for signs that they may be developing the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday. Washington state and Chicago earlier had confirmed infections.

“The U.S. has faced multiple pandemics before, of varying degrees of severity,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We need to be preparing as if this is a pandemic, but I continue to hope that it is not.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

Also read: China Names HIV Drugs in Treatment Plan for New Virus

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