January 27, 2020

Article at Washington Post

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CDC issues highest travel warning, urges U.S. citizens to avoid nonessential travel to China

Even as China takes more stringent measures to limit the movement of the vast country’s population during the biggest travel period of the year, and as the United States and other countries move ahead with evacuation plans, there are increasing fears that a quarantine will not be enough to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, which so far has infected at least 4,428 people in China and killed at least 106. Here’s what we know:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised its travel warning Monday to a level 3, its highest alert level, urging U.S. citizens to avoid all nonessential travel to China.

● With at least 106 dead so far, Beijing has broadened the extraordinary quarantine to more than 50 million people, but the mayor of Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicenter, said 5 million people have already left his city.

● China’s health minister said the coronavirus is increasing in virulence and now could be contagious even before people exhibit symptoms, making apparently healthy people possible carriers.

● A scientific assessment of the spread of the disease, assuming an optimistic 90 percent quarantine, still predicted more than 59,000 infections and 1,500 deaths — twice the toll of the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak.

The CDC said on Monday there were no new confirmed cases of coronavirus overnight but that it is investigating 110 people in 26 states.

● In the United States, health officials confirmed five cases of the pneumonia-like illness, while infections also have been confirmed in France, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Canada, Sri Lanka and Germany. We’re mapping the spread here.

Germany records first confirmed case of coronavirus

A man from southern Bavaria, roughly 20 miles south of Munich, is in an isolation ward, where doctors are monitoring him but say he’s in good condition, according to a statement from the agency.

The first confirmed case comes as Germany’s leaders urged residents to avoid all unnecessary travel to China and discussed evacuating its citizens from the country.

“We are checking and preparing for all options; that means we are also considering a possible evacuation of all those willing to leave,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said at a press conference, according to the German outlet Deutsche Welle.

Death toll in China rises to more than 100

WASHINGTON — Early Tuesday Beijing time, Chinese health agencies announced the country’s death toll had risen overnight to 106 people. The total number of infections also climbed to 4,428 across more than 30 provinces, according to a tally from national and local health commissions. Country-wide, roughly 60 people have recovered from the coronavirus.

Major metropolitan areas, including Beijing and Shanghai, recorded their first deaths late Monday local time. In Hubei province, the disease’s epicenter, there have been more than 2,700 confirmed cases and 100 deaths, state media reported.

U.S. will send more staff for passenger screening to 20 airports

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government is increasing staff to conduct screenings at 20 airports that handle almost all passengers traveling into the country from China, where a novel coronavirus continues to spread, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Details of the expanded surveillance are still being formulated. The CDC already has quarantine facilities in place at 20 ports of entry, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Anchorage, Honolulu, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Miami and Houston.

Vice President Mike Pence alluded to the expanded screening in public remarks Monday afternoon. He said the 20 airports involved are “the airports that receive 90 percent of all passengers from China. Any passengers who are ill will receive additional screening.”

“Here in our country, we’re taking strong steps to see to the health and the wellbeing of the American people,” Pence said. “But as President Trump made clear today, the United States of America stands ready to assist the people of China and around the world as they deal with this virus.”

Top U.S. health official criticizes China for not admitting outside experts

WASHINGTON — Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that China has been more transparent in the outbreak of the novel coronavirus outbreak than it was in the 2003 SARS outbreak but that U.S. officials are still getting their information through Chinese press briefings rather than from shared scientific data.

He noted that China’s health minister, Ma Xiaowei, said Sunday that the virus could be transmitted by an infected person even before symptoms appear. Fauci said he wished China would allow U.S. and international research teams to travel to China to see what’s happening directly.

“We really need to know what is the scientific basis of saying the virus is spread by someone who doesn’t have any symptoms,” Fauci told The Washington Post. “That was a major potential game-changer that gets spoken to us in a press briefing. We should have seen the data.”

“If people can be transmitting and infecting without any symptoms, that has a major impact on how you screen people,” he added.

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised its travel warning Monday to a level 3, its highest alert level, urging U.S. citizens to avoid all nonessential travel to China because of the coronavirus outbreak. The warning says those who travel should avoid all contact with sick people, animal markets and products that come from animals. It advises travelers to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe effects of the disease and should discuss travel with their health-care provider, the agency said.

The warning also advises people who have traveled to China in the last 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough, or have difficulty breathing to seek medical care right away. Before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room, those people are advised to call ahead and tell them about recent travel and symptoms.

State Department urges U.S. citizens to ‘reconsider travel’ to China and avoid Hubei province

WASHINGTON — The State Department raised its China travel warning to a level 3 Monday, urging U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to the country due to the coronavirus outbreak. It also raised the travel warning for Hubei province to level 4, advising against any travel there and noting that U.S. officials have “limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens” in the province.

“Travelers should be aware that the Chinese government could prevent them from entering or exiting parts of Hubei province,” the warning said, adding that restrictions could “be put into effect with little or no advance notice.”

The warning stated that those who must travel to China should avoid all contact with sick people, animals and animal products.

U.S. stock markets close sharply lower over fears about coronavirus

WASHINGTON — Global markets took a steep drop Monday as investors grew increasingly anxious about the swift spread of the coronavirus beyond China’s borders.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 454 points, or 1.6 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 and Nasdaq also slid significantly, 1.6 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively.

Travel-related companies were hit particularly hard. Shares of American Airlines lost 5.5 percent and Delta fell 3.4 percent. Wynn Resorts, which has a large footprint in Macao, fell 8.1 percent. Las Vegas Sands fell 6.7 percent. Luckin Coffee, a company based in China that manages more than 4,000 locations, saw its stock price fall 9 percent.

“If the current outbreak turns into a pandemic that significantly disrupts global commerce, the impact would be bad news for the global economy and corporate earnings,” said Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research.

Washington officials track more than five dozen contacts of first confirmed U.S. case of novel coronavirus

SEATTLE — Washington state health authorities are tracking a growing number of people — the total has expanded to 64 — who had contact with the Washington state man who was the first confirmed U.S. case of the novel coronavirus. That patient, a man in his 30s, is still in “satisfactory” condition and is being monitored at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash., authorities said. He had reached out to health authorities more than a week ago upon feeling sick after his return from Wuhan.

Two of the man’s contacts are considered “people under investigation,” said Heather Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish County Health District. Their specimens are being delivered to the CDC today. In the meantime, they are isolated at home, she said.

As to why the contact list keeps expanding, Thomas noted that “sometimes, we find one contact that adds on a couple more. For example, if one person was listed, but they had others with them, that initial contact now becomes two or three.”

“In a complex case like this one, it is to be expected that we identify others who need to be tested. That is why our disease investigators are doing daily monitoring for potential symptoms,” said Thomas.

Hospital officials said they are working with the CDC and the Washington state health department to treat and monitor the patient, said hospital spokesman Casey Calamusa.

U.S. tech giants battling against disinformation

WASHINGTON — The rapid spread of the coronavirus in China and around the world has sent Facebook, Google and Twitter scrambling to prevent a different sort of malady — a surge of half-truths and outright falsehoods about the deadly outbreak.

Already, Facebook and its peers have tried to battle back pervasive conspiracy theories, including a hoax that wrongly claims U.S. government officials secretly created or obtained a patent for the illness. Some of the misinformation has circulated through private Facebook groups — channels that are hard for researchers to monitor in real time — that came into existence after news first broke about the coronavirus.

“Oregano Oil Proves Effective Against Coronavirus,” read one post that had been shared at least 2,000 times across multiple groups by Monday. The original post is a decade old, originating on a holistic care website — and scientists have said there is no such cure for coronavirus.

Nine organizations that partner with Facebook on fact-checking have rated multiple coronavirus claims as false, including those peddling fake treatments, the company said Monday. Facebook said it has labeled the inaccuracies and lowered their rank in users’ daily feeds.

WASHINGTON — As the infections mount in China, officials in countries with confirmed travel-related cases are trying to better understand how easily the virus spreads and how deadly it is.

Officials in Canada said Monday during a news conference in Toronto that they do not know how their presumptive second case, the wife of a man who is Canada’s first confirmed case, was infected. It could have been from human to human spread from her husband, or from exposure in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the outbreak began.

“This individual has been in close proximity to her husband and, having also arrived in Toronto from the area of Wuhan, could also have been exposed to the virus in China,” said David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer.

The couple, both in their 50s, arrived in Toronto from Wuhan on Jan. 22. Both wore masks on the flight. The man is in isolation in Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital, and in stable condition. The wife is not showing symptoms, and is in isolation at home. There are no other family members living in the same household.

“She’s not been in need of the same acute hospital care as her husband,” Williams said. Her case shows that the virus causes a range of illness. “Not all people who contract this experience the same severe symptoms,” he said.

BERLIN — In Wuhan, residents sought to encourage one another from their apartments on Monday by chanting a message of support, according to footage that has emerged from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

In videos uploaded to social media on Monday and authenticated by Storyful, a social media verification agency, residents of high-rise buildings could be heard repeatedly shouting the words “Wuhan, jiayou” — the latter being a versatile Chinese term that can be translated as “Hang in there” or “Do your best” in an encouraging sense. (Literally translated, “jiayou” means “add oil.”)

Wuhan has been under a travel lockdown since Jan. 23. Of its around 11 million residents, 5 million have already left Wuhan, according to the city’s mayor. Many residents who are still in the city have tried to stay at home as a precautionary measure.

BERLIN — U.S. pharmaceutical corporation Johnson & Johnson announced on Monday that its researchers are joining the race to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus.

“Multiple efforts are needed to make sure that at the end, one vaccine or two or three make it — because we are not sure at all” what will succeed, Paul Stoffels, the corporation’s chief scientific officer, said in an interview.

He added that the work began two weeks ago and it would likely take eight to 12 months before the first tests on people.

The corporation’s announcement followed a number of similar recent initiatives by international companies, as well as private and governmental research institutes. The National Institutes of Health expects to have a vaccine in human safety tests in three months.

Last week, the Norway-headquartered Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) announced that it had initiated several new programs to advance “vaccine candidates into clinical testing as quickly as possible.” Other efforts are testing existing and experimental antiviral drugs to see if they could help patients in the short term.

Johnson & Johnson sent 100 boxes of an HIV drug, Prezcobix, to the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center so that researchers can test whether it has any effect against coronavirus.

“It is highly recommended that our citizens do not travel to China unless it is necessary and if they travel there, they should stay away from the regions where the [coronavirus] cases are seen, especially in Hubei province,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to Anadolu, the country’s state-run news agency.

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