China seals off more cities as virus toll climbs

Published January 24, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Agence France-Presse and Analou De Vera

WUHAN, China – China sealed off millions more people near the epicenter of a virus outbreak on Friday, shutting down public transport in 13 cities restricting the movement of 41 million people in an unprecedented quarantine effort as the death toll rose to 26.

Passengers wearing protective facemasks are checked by security personnel wearing hazardous material suits at the entrance to the underground train station in Beijing on January 24, 2020, to help stop the spread of a deadly SARS-like virus which originated in the central city of Wuhan. (Photo by Noel Celis / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)
Passengers wearing protective facemasks are checked by security personnel wearing hazardous material suits at the entrance to the underground train station in Beijing on January 24, 2020, to help stop the spread of a deadly SARS-like virus which originated in the central city of Wuhan. (Photo by Noel Celis / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

The World Health Organization (WHO) said China faced an emergency but stopped short of making a global declaration that would have prompted greater international cooperation, including possible trade and travel restrictions.

China not only expanded a lockdown but also cancelled some Lunar New Year celebrations to prevent the disease from spreading further.

The virus that emerged in the central city of Wuhan has now infected 830 people, the national health commission said.

The new virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Wuhan, a major industrial and transport hub of 11 million people in the centre of the country, has been rendered a ghost town by China’s imposition of an unprecedented transport quarantine around it and nearby cities.

China has begun its Lunar New Year holiday, typically marked by family gatherings and public events, but the streets of Wuhan were deserted and stores shuttered.

Even the police presence, usually prominent in China, was hardly detectable.

Jingzhou, the ninth city included in the transport ban with a population of 6.4 million, suspended all services departing from its railway station from 0400 GMT.

Public buses, passenger transport, tourism buses, ferries and other boats will temporarily stop operations as well.

Huangshi, with a population of 2.4 million, shut transport routes Friday as well as closing a ferry terminal and bridge over the Yangtze River, and suspending public transport.

The move followed the suspension of long-distance passenger buses, tourist coaches and public transport from Thursday night in Qianjiang, a city in central Hubei with a population of nearly one million.

Trains and planes were halted from leaving Wuhan on Thursday as the city was placed under effective lockdown. Passenger boats and buses were also forbidden from entering the city.

The virus has hit China in the midst of its Lunar New Year holiday, typically marked by family gatherings and public celebrations.

Other cities with travel restrictions include Xiantao, a city of 1.5 million, and Chibi, which has some 500,000 people, which closed toll station entrances and halted transport routes.

The cities of Ezhou, Huanggang and Lichuan have also introduced travel restrictions.

Hubei province authorities said they were calling off cultural performances at public venues.

Travel agencies in the province have suspended business activities, and are no longer organizing tour groups, authorities said Friday.

From 0400 GMT, the province will also stop operating online taxis and impose restrictions on taxis plying the roads.

At least eight hospitals in Wuhan have issued public appeals for donations of goggles, masks, medical caps and protective suits for medical workers.

The closure of manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of medical gear over the week-long Lunar New Year holiday starting this week is exacerbating the shortages.

Chinese media report that some hospitals have supplies for only three to four days and are running low on testing kits.

Wuhan city has sought more financial support from the central government.

PH suspends flights to Wuhan

In Manila, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) has indefinitely suspended Thursday all airline operations from Wuhan, China to any point in the Philippines and vice versa as a precautionary measure amid the threat of the novel coronavirus.

The CAB said the order to suspend airline operations will be without prejudice to the flights to be made by Royal Air Charter Services on January 24 and 27, 2020 as well as that of Pan Pacific Air on January 23 and 25, 2020 for the sole purpose of ferrying their charter passengers back to Wuhan.

“Provided, that no passengers shall be carried from its return flight from Wuhan to the Philippines and, provided further, that both airline shall exercise extraordinary vigilance in ensuring the health and safety of its passengers and crews,” the CAB said.

As an additional precautionary measure, the CAB has also ordered all airlines operating in the country to monitor events that will take place in other cities which may be affected by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“All air carriers are directed  to closely monitor the events that might transpire from other cities which may be affected by the coronavirus and shall take necessary precautions in ensuring that the health and safety of passengers are not jeopardized,” the CAB said.

In his report to Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, CAB Executive Director Carmelo Arcilla said that the move aims to prevent the possible further spread and transmission of the novel coronavirus.

According to Arcilla, two Philippine carriers currently operate regular charter services between Wuhan and Kalibo in Aklan province.

“Wuhan is the center of the outbreak and the probability of transmission to our country is made highly possible because of the direct flights between Wuhan and Kalibo,” said Arcilla.

Arcilla noted that Scoot Airlines from Singapore and China Airlines of Taiwan, have also suspended their regular flights to Wuhan.

Arcilla has also assured that the CAB will continue to monitor the unfolding novel coronavirus situation.

“The Board will continue to monitor the developments in other Chinese cities as the viral outbreak unfolds, and will continue to coordinate with the Department of Health, CAAP and MIAA for guidance as to further courses of action,” he said.

For his part, Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur Tugade said that everything must be done so as not to compromise public safety.

“When it come to public safety, it is always better to be overly protective than to fall short on measures and eventually regret it. We have to address it quickly and we have to do it right,” Sec. Tugade said.

READ MORE: Civil Aeronautics Board suspends all Wuhan-to-PH flights due to coronavirus outbreak

Suspicious nCov case in Tacloban

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) is currently investigating another “suspicious” case of 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV) after a 36-year-old man in Tacloban City manifested respiratory infection.

“Gagawa pa lang tayo ng screening test. Ngayon suspicious lang naman tayo pero hindi pa tayo umaabot na probable case sya [We are still making a screening test. As of now, it is only suspicious and we are not deeming it yet as a probable case],” said Health Undersecretary Rolando Enrique Domingo in an interview Friday afternoon.

Domingo said the man “has a cough and fever, recent travel to Wuhan– and came home to Tacloban on the 17th [of January].”

Domingo added that the man is in stable condition and in isolation in a health facility in Eastern Visayas. The man’s biological sample was sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for pancoronavirus assay– a screening tool for coronavirus.

So far, Domingo said the Philippines has two patients under investigation for 2019 nCoV which includes a five-year-old boy from China who recently arrived in Cebu City.

No confirm 2019 nCoV case yet

The health official said they are still awaiting the results of a lab test on the boy earlier sent to Australia.

“We received a word from Australia that the sample got there in good condition, intact, and frozen and that they are going to run the test immediately,” he said.

“However, the test really takes at least 24 hours and the problem unfortunately, mukhang [looks like it’s] long-weekend sa [in] Australia. So it is possible we will be getting the confirmatory test result by Tuesday,” he said.

Although the WHO said the spread of the 2019 nCoV is not yet considered a “public health emergency of international concern,” Domingo said that the DOH is on alert.

“We already triggered our incident command system. We are treating it as a public health emergency,” said Domingo.

“We want to make sure that if it does get here – we are able to contain it, isolate it–and of course manage the patients properly,” he added.

South Korea on Friday confirmed its second case of the SARS-like virus.  A man in his 50s started experiencing symptoms while working in Wuhan on Jan 10.  He was tested upon returning to South Korea earlier this week, and was confirmed to be the country’s second case of the virus on Thursday, the ministry added.

Japan’s health ministry on Friday likewise confirmed the country’s second case of a novel coronavirus strain.  A man in his 40s who was a resident of Wuhan arrived in Japan on January 19.

The ministry said the man reported having fever for several days before his arrival but said that his condition had stabilized by the time of his arrival in Japan.

On January 22, he reported a fever and he is now in a Tokyo hospital receiving treatment, the ministry said. (With a report from Reuters)

READ MORE: No confirmed case of nCoV – DOH