January 30, 2020

Article at Washington Post

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State Dept. urges citizens not to travel to China due to the outbreak

The State Department heightened its travel advisory for China on Thursday, urging citizens not to travel there due to the rapid spread of coronavirus. The announcement came hours after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency,” setting in motion a plan for global coordination to stem the spread of the virus, which originated last month in Wuhan, China.

Chinese officials announced more than 3,100 new cases of the coronavirus as the total number of people infected in China reached 9,720 as of Friday morning Beijing time, including nine cases in the self-governing island of Taiwan.

The United States confirmed a sixth U.S. case of the Wuhan coronavirus on Thursday, marking the first time the virus has spread from person to person in the United States.

With experts saying a vaccine is still a long way off, more international cases of the illness have appeared. Australia, Vietnam and South Korea all announced new coronavirus infections, while India and the Philippines had their first ones. Here’s what we know so far:

● More than 80 cases have been recorded outside China and the self-governing island of Taiwan, and four other countries have reported person-to-person transmission of the virus.

● Roughly 200 Americans evacuated from Wuhan landed in California on Wednesday, while the United States confirmed its first case where the virus had spread from person to person within the United States.

● WHO announced Thursday that it was declaring the outbreak a “public health emergency,” which legally requires states to ramp up their response to the crisis.

Infections also have been confirmed in Italy, France, Hong Kong, Japan, Nepal, Cambodia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Taiwan, Canada, Thailand, Malaysia, Germany, Finland and Sri Lanka. We’re mapping the spread here.

Facebook will remove fake cures and other harmful misinformation about coronavirus

WASHINGTON — Facebook will remove posts, photos and videos that peddle harmful misinformation about the coronavirus, the company announced Thursday, seeking to crack down on a wave of content pitching false cures to the fast-spreading global health crisis.

The social-networking giant said in a blog post that its new efforts, building off its policies that prohibit users from causing real-world harm, would result in the removal of dangerous claims, such as those that suggest drinking bleach cures the coronavirus, as well as hashtags that promote falsehoods on its photo-sharing site Instagram.

In doing so, Facebook said it would start steering users to more authoritative sources of information from the World Health Organization. Facebook also said it had provided free advertising credits to help organizations run coronavirus education campaigns.

“As the global public health community works to keep people safe, Facebook is supporting their work in several ways, most especially by working to limit the spread of misinformation and harmful content about the virus and connecting people to helpful information,” Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health, said in the post.

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Thursday elevated its travel advisory for China to Level 4: Do Not Travel, after giving just Hubei province that designation earlier in the day. The rest of China had been at Level 3, which urges U.S. citizens to “strongly reconsider travel” there.

“Those currently in China should consider departing using commercial means,” the State Department said in the advisory. “The Department of State has requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel to China in light of the novel coronavirus.”

LPGA cancels tournament in China due to coronavirus

WASHINGTON — The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) said Thursday that it would cancel a tournament that was scheduled for March 5 through 8 on China’s Hainan Island. The organization said that health concerns and travel restrictions necessitated that the 2020 Blue Bay LPGA not take place.

“The health and safety of our players, fans and everyone working on the event is always our highest priority,” the LPGA said in a statement. “While we are disappointed that the tournament won’t take place this season, we look forward to going back to Blue Bay in 2021 and for many years to come.”

South Korea evacuates citizens from Wuhan

The plane carried 368 passengers, about half of the approximately 720 South Koreans in Wuhan. China has given permission to only one out of four flights with which South Korea had planned to evacuate its citizens, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry. The ministry said it will coordinate further with China to repatriate the remaining South Korean nationals in Wuhan.

The evacuees were screened for symptoms before boarding the plane and only those who proved “symptom-free” were allowed, according to the ministry. After landing, they will be subject to a secondary screening and spend 14 days in quarantine at facilities in the cities of Asan and Jincheon.

Concerned that the quarantine sites could put their own health at risk, residents of the two cities pelted officials with plastic bottles and eggs.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of passengers on the plane. South Korea’s foreign ministry said that there were 368 passengers.

WASHINGTON — The union representing pilots at American Airlines on Thursday filed suit in a Texas court seeking to stop the Fort Worth-based carrier from flying to China, saying continuing to serve the region during the coronavirus outbreak poses a threat to crew members and the public.

“Recent events relating to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China have created a threat to the safety of passengers and flight crew travelling to and from that country,” says the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents the 15,000 pilots at American.

The suit noted that several other carriers, including British Airways, Air Canada and the Lufthansa group, have halted all flights to the region.

“All pilots are obligated to make safety our number one priority,” said Dennis Tajer, a APA spokesman. “There is enough uncertainty on this that it is a prudent decision to maintain a margin of safety.”

In a separate message to pilots, Eric Ferguson, president of APA, said pilots should decline any assignment that would take them to China.

“Consistent with our lawsuit, I am directing all APA pilots to cease flight operations between the United States and China,” he said in the message. “Until further notice, if you are scheduled, assigned, or reassigned a pairing into China, decline the assignment ...”

“We are in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and global public health officials to make sure we are taking all necessary precautions for our customers and team members,” the airline said.

American announced this week that it was suspending flights between Los Angeles International Airport and Beijing and Shanghai from Feb. 9 through March 27. However, the airline said there were currently no plans to cancel additional flights.

State Dept. authorizes departure of more federal employees from China

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday approved the departure of non-emergency employees and family members from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the Consulates General in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang, a department spokesperson said Thursday.

The authorized departure of staff from the embassy and additional consulates was made “out of an abundance of caution” due to restricted transportation in China and the availability of health care for coronavirus, the spokesperson said in a statement. The embassy and consulates will keep providing services as they are able.

The State Department has implemented a Level 3 travel advisory for China, urging citizens to “strongly reconsider travel.” Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, is under a travel advisory of Level 4: Do Not Travel.

WHO urges China to share data, collaborate with partners

WASHINGTON — In declaring the coronavirus outbreak in China a global health emergency on Thursday, the World Health Organization urged China’s health authorities to implement a range of measures in addition to widespread quarantines and travel restrictions already in place to control the disease spread.

Although the recommendations are not enforceable, countries are often under great pressure to follow them as member states that have agreed to follow the WHO’s international health regulations.

Some of the recommendations for Chinese authorities address concerns of public health officials and experts who say China has not shared crucial demographic data about patients and when they became ill. That data is needed to learn more about the evolution of the outbreak, which officials can then use to better control its spread.

● Strengthen efforts to identify the animal source of the outbreak, especially the potential for ongoing circulation and inform the WHO as soon as possible;

WASHINGTON — The worldwide panic over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus underscores the challenges that the international community faces in stemming infectious diseases. New viral outbreaks are only expected to become more frequent as the world continues to warm and environments shift due to climate change, according to scientists.

“In a broad sense, climate change can increase the likelihood of certain kinds of viruses,” said Bryan Walsh, the author of “End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World.”

“The clearest connection we see when it comes to climate change boosting the threat of infection is in insect-borne diseases that thrive in hotter climates … because climate change expands the range of species that carry them,” he explained.

Beyond warming climates, man-made changes to environments, like deforestation, also raise the risk of new infectious diseases spreading to humans. That’s because these changes put animals and humans in closer proximity, thereby raising the risk that a disease will transmit from the former to the latter, Walsh said.

“If you have deforestation, for example, that may lead animals to carry pathogens outside of forests and become in contact with human beings,” he said.

In the case of the novel coronavirus that started in China, scientists estimate that it originated in an animal, perhaps a bat, and then was transmitted to humans via at least one intermediary animal sold at a market.

In this way, Walsh said climate change played a “back seat” role in the outbreak, while for new and old insect-borne viruses expanding their reach due to warming, the impact can be more directly traced.

WASHINGTON — There are currently hundreds of Australian citizens in China’s Hubei province, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this week that if his government manages to organize flights for its citizens to leave, they plan to send them to a detention center on Christmas Island, an Australian territory some 1,000 miles offshore.

They will be required to stay there for two weeks and will also have to pay around $677 for the evacuation, Australian media reported.

The Australian plan has been met with mixed reactions, with some outraged by the suggestion and others describing it as a logical course for a country already managing several cases of the contagious illness in major cities. Other governments, including the United States, are also temporarily isolating passengers being evacuated from Wuhan.

In a TV interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp., Daniel Ouyang, an Australian citizen who is now stuck in Wuhan after visiting family, said he is debating whether he should agree to board a flight that will require him to stay in a lengthy quarantine on Christmas Island.

“What’s going to happen to us when we arrive, what’s going to happen to our freedom, what are going to be able to do and not be allowed to do?” he said. “Are we going to have our phones taken away, are we going to be able to contact people outside for those 14 days? Nothing has been made apparent to us right now so we are very mixed up on whether I should try to make that flight or not.”

WASHINGTON — This is the sixth outbreak that the WHO has voted to assign the designation of public health emergency, defined by the group as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.”

● The 2016 Zika virus, which was spread by mosquitoes throughout the Americas and Africa and was particularly dangerous for pregnant women.

● The 2018 Ebola epidemic in North Kivu and Ituri provinces of the Congo, which was the world’s second-largest Ebola outbreak. The WHO controversially waited until 2019 to declare it a public health emergency.

WASHINGTON — U.S.-based companies and organizations are responding to reports that hospitals in Wuhan are facing shortages of critical medical supplies.

On Thursday, MAP International, a Georgia-based nonprofit global health organization, announced that it was partnering with the UPS Foundation to airlift 1.3 million respirator masks, more than 10,000 protective suits and 280,000 pairs of nitrile gloves to hospitals in Wuhan. The shipment of 120 pallets will go to the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is handling distribution of the supplies.

On Wednesday, Boeing announced that it was sending 250,000 medical-grade respiratory masks for health officials treating patients in Wuhan and Zhoushan. The company, which has a 737 completion and delivery center in Zhoushan, has provided 25,000 of the masks to employees working in the region. Boeing 737 Max jets built in Renton, Wash., are flown to the center, where interior work is completed on the planes. The center is the first Boeing facility of its type outside of the United States.

Medical-grade masks have disappeared from shelves, and medical facilities have also reported shortages of other critical supplies as they work to control the outbreak. On social media, hospitals and health authorities have been issuing urgent requests for donations of basic supplies such as masks.

The WHO on Thursday declared the China coronavirus outbreak an international public health emergency, marking an escalation in the global response to an outbreak that has sickened more than 8,100 people and killed over 170 in that country, and led to growing spread of the virus through person-to-person transmission in the United States, Germany, Japan and Vietnam.

The designation gives the global health agency the ability to ramp up the responses of governments and organizations around the world as they try to control the outbreak.

In making the announcement in Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the decision was made to prevent the further spread of the virus to countries with weak health systems that are “ill-prepared to deal with it.”

“This decision is not a vote of no confidence in China,” he said, emphasizing the WHO “continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”

He praised China for the speed with which it identified the virus, sequenced its genome and shared it with the world, actions he called “impressive and beyond words.” There have been no deaths outside China, he said.

Tedros said the Chinese government should be congratulated for its “extraordinary measures” taken so far to control the outbreak, noting that the quarantines in place for about 50 million Chinese and other steps have already resulted in “severe social and economic impact” on the Chinese people.

“We would have seen many more cases outside China now and probably deaths if it was not for the progress they made to protect their own people and those of the world,” Tedros said.

Although the number of cases in other countries is relatively small, he said, the world must “act together to limit further spread.”

The global health agency is also calling for the world community to support countries with weak health systems, accelerate the development of vaccines, combat the spread of rumors and misinformation, ramp up preparedness and health-care resources to prevent further spread, and share data, knowledge and expertise with the WHO and the rest of the world.

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