Coronavirus Live Updates: Deaths in China Surpass Toll From SARS

More than 800 people have died from the new virus in China. The 2002-3 epidemic, which also began in the country, killed 774 people worldwide.

ImageCoronavirus Live Updates: Deaths in China Surpass Toll From SARS
Lining up to get tickets for free masks and sanitizer outside a Beijing pharmacy on Saturday.Credit...Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The coronavirus death toll in China has risen to 811, surpassing the toll from the SARS epidemic of 2002-3, according to official data released on Sunday.

The number of confirmed infections rose to 37,198, according to China’s National Health Commission. Eighty-nine deaths and 2,656 new cases were recorded in the preceding 24 hours, most of them in Hubei Province, the heart of the outbreak. A United States citizen died from the coronavirus in Wuhan, the provincial capital, American officials said on Saturday.

The SARS epidemic, which also began in China, killed 774 people worldwide. There have been only two confirmed deaths from the new coronavirus outside mainland China — one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

Many doctors believe that deaths and infections from the current epidemic are undercounted in China because testing facilities are under severe strain.

The number of new cases has stabilized in recent days, but World Health Organization officials cautioned against reading too much into those numbers, saying that Wuhan and Hubei were in the midst of a “very intense outbreak.”

“It’s very, very early to make any predictions,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the W.H.O.’s health emergencies program.

The measures put in place in Hubei appear to be “paying off,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director general, but he warned that outbreaks like these are unpredictable. “We have to understand it with caution because it can show stability for a few days and then they can shoot up,” he said. “I’ve said it many times: It’s slow now, but it may accelerate.”

Britain on Sunday confirmed a new coronavirus case, bringing the total cases in the country to four. The infected person was a “known contact of a previously confirmed U.K. case,” the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said in a statement.

The announcement came just hours after a flight from Wuhan, China, carrying 200 Britons and European nationals arrived in Britain. About 150 of the passengers were taken to a center in Milton Keynes, England, to be quarantined for 14 days.

The authorities in Spain said on Sunday that the country had confirmed its second coronavirus case: a British man who lives on the island of Majorca with his family.

The man, whose identity was not disclosed, had reported to the hospital on Friday, and was later joined there by his wife and two children to undergo testing for the virus. The wife and children tested negative, according to Spain’s national center for microbiology.

The infected man, who has been quarantined, had been in contact with a person who tested positive for the virus in France, Spanish officials said. The authorities in Majorca are now investigating whether the infected man came into contact with other people on the island before going to the hospital.

Fernando Simón, the director of the center that coordinates emergencies within the Spanish Health Ministry, told reporters on Sunday that the man “is in good health, is showing almost no symptoms, but has to be kept isolated as long as he is positive.”

All 3,600 people aboard a cruise ship that had been held for four days in Hong Kong disembarked on Sunday after its crew members tested negative for the coronavirus, health officials said.

The ship, the World Dream, had been grounded since Wednesday because eight people from mainland China who were on a previous journey were found to be infected with the coronavirus. Everyone was cleared to leave after no cases were found among the 1,800 crew members.

  • Updated Feb. 5, 2020

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      Read up on the respiratory virus, including its symptoms and how it is transmitted.
    • How bad could the outbreak be?
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    • Where has the virus spread?
      You can track its movement with this map.
    • How is the United States being affected?
      There have been at least a dozen cases. American citizens and permanent residents who fly to the United States from China are now subject to a two-week quarantine.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      Several countries, including the United States, have discouraged travel to China, and several airlines have canceled flights. Many travelers have been left in limbo while looking to change or cancel bookings.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands is the most important thing you can do.

Most passengers had kept to their rooms during the holding period, watching movies or playing mahjong. Some ventured outside on balconies, waving to loved ones or shouting messages to reporters stationed on the dock below.

“I felt really bored staying in my room, but we know that the quarantine is to keep everyone else in the city safe,” Charlotte Chan, a sales executive said on Sunday, after she disembarked wearing two layers of masks.

She said that crew members had worn masks and gloves when interacting with passengers. Nevertheless, she planned to clean her suitcases as soon as she returned home.

Six more people on a cruise ship that has been quarantined for nearly a week in Yokohama, Japan, have tested positive for the coronavirus, passengers were told on Sunday. Five of them were crew members.

About 3,700 people on the ship, the Diamond Princess, have been quarantined since Monday, after it was learned that a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan. 25 had tested positive for the virus.

The Japanese health authorities have tested hundreds of people on the ship, and as of Saturday, 64 had tested positive for the coronavirus. The six new cases, which were confirmed by the Health Ministry on Sunday, bring the total to 70.

The announcement to passengers, a recording of which was posted online, said the six people were being taken off the ship and that eight other passengers had been taken to hospitals for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus.

For Doug Perez, the most dangerous part of each day in Wuhan is taking his dog for a walk.

Mr. Perez, 28, grew up around San Francisco, but he has taught math and science for the last two years in the Chinese city where the coronavirus emerged. When it began to spread, he chose to stay.

So when Chubby, a 1-year-old Labrador, needs to go out, Mr. Perez pulls on gloves, straps on a mask, and wriggles into the special jacket and pants that are sprayed down with alcohol after every trip outdoors. Then he slides a yellow jacket over Chubby, too.

The State Department has evacuated hundreds of Americans from Hubei Province, where the outbreak began. But some, like Mr. Perez, have decided not to leave. In his case, it is because he does not want to abandon his girlfriend, who is Chinese.

They have spent more than two weeks in his apartment, along with his girlfriend’s brother. They cook, they watch television (three seasons of “The Sopranos” so far), and they clean — a lot. They scrub down surfaces, furiously wash their hands and disinfect their clothes after going out.

“Sometimes I find I’m out of time, which is crazy,” Mr. Perez said. “You’d think I’d have all the time in the world, but with the coronavirus, a lot of time is spent cleaning.”

Other Americans have also stayed in China because of loved ones. Gabrielle Autry, 26, from Georgia, lives in the eastern city of Hangzhou. She has looked into flights that would take her to the United States — but her fiancé, a Chinese citizen, would not be able to join her, since all foreign nationals are barred from entering the United States if they have recently been in China. If the two were married, it would be a different story.

For now, they are mostly stuck at home, a little bored. But at least they are together, Ms. Autry said.

“Together it’s O.K., but alone it would be horrible,” she said. “I just couldn’t fathom it.”

Mr. Perez has tried to make the best of the isolation, working on his coding skills and reading lots of news about the virus. He talks to his family nearly every day. His parents have sent him masks.

“They’ve been supportive of my decision to stay,” he said. “They regret it, but they know me and I guess they know I’m stubborn about some things.”

His classes have been canceled, and he is not sure if he will be paid after February. The announcement of an American’s death in Wuhan was upsetting, as are the “rumors and mass hysteria” that he often sees on social media.

To treat themselves, the household orders takeout now and again, even though they consider it safer to cook.

“After a rough week, getting a pizza in is worth the risk,” Mr. Perez said. “It doesn’t make sense, it is risky, but it’s just to keep the morale up.”

Global Times, a Chinese tabloid controlled by the Communist Party, has accused “Hong Kong secessionists and foreign entities” of trying to stir discontent in China by sensationalizing the death of Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who gave early warnings about the coronavirus only to succumb to it himself.

“These conspirators are best at stirring up emotions from behind the scenes, as they do in Hong Kong,” Global Times said in an article published on Saturday, referring to months of pro-democracy protests that shook the semiautonomous Chinese city last year.

The tabloid argued that using Dr. Li’s death to foment antigovernment sentiment was part of the playbook of separatist groups, writing in a tweet that “experts” called the strategy “obnoxious and childish.”

Dr. Li had been reprimanded by the local authorities for “spreading rumors” when he first warned medical school classmates about a highly contagious virus. After his death, illustrations of him being muzzled in a mask circulated widely on Weibo, a popular microblogging platform, along with messages of grief and anger. A hashtag that demanded freedom of speech trended for several hours before it was censored.

The Global Times article showed an early attempt at claiming Dr. Li’s legacy, reframing his determination to shed light on the virus as something done in service to the party, not in defiance of it. While the writers acknowledged public anger at the handling of the disease by provincial officials, Global Times said that Dr. Li was a Communist Party member who vowed to fight the disease on the front lines after he recovered.

Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of the paper, also posted comments about the American response to the crisis late Saturday, in response to a tweet by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about protective equipment and medical supplies from the United States arriving in Wuhan.

“Aid organized by the US government, though belated, is still welcome and we appreciate it,” Mr. Hu wrote. “But so far, aid that Chinese people heard from the US leaders are much more than the US aid that people actually saw in Wuhan.”

Chinese academics, professionals and others have created digital petitions calling for freedom of speech in the wake of Dr. Li’s death, amid a widespread outpouring of anger and grief online.

“Change, and only change, is the best commemoration of Dr. Li Wenliang,” said a petition that had been signed by 28 academics, lawyers and business figures by Sunday morning.

“Otherwise, all our outrage and all our tears will end up as bubbles,” it said. “And we will continue suffering from man-made disasters and our offspring will continue to live in fear.”

Around the country, people have been mourning Dr. Li and engaging in soul-searching, both in private and online, as to whether they’ve been complicit under an authoritarian government that allows for little dissent.

The petitions reflect concerns that the online expressions of frustration will fade, just like in several past instances, including a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province and a train accident in 2011.

By Sunday, a petition on the site Matters had been signed by nearly 1,000 people. The petition urges the government to apologize to Dr. Li and seven other medical workers who were reprimanded for sharing knowledge about the virus. It also calls for the punishment of officials who suppressed information about the outbreak.

“A healthy society should allow more than one voice,” one petition quoted Dr. Li as telling the Chinese magazine Caixin.

“Only by guaranteeing every citizen’s freedom of speech can we avoid repeating tragedies,” another said.

For China’s leader, Xi Jinping, the outbreak is not just a health crisis, but a political one: a test of the authoritarian system he has built around himself. As his government struggles to contain the virus amid rising public discontent with its performance, the changes that Mr. Xi has ushered in could make it difficult for him to escape blame.

“It’s a big shock to the legitimacy of the ruling party. I think it could be only second to the June 4 incident of 1989. It’s that big,” said Rong Jian, a writer about politics in Beijing, referring to the armed crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters that year.

“There’s no doubt about his control over power,” he added, “but the manner of control and its consequences have hurt his legitimacy and reputation.”

Mr. Xi himself has recognized what is at stake, calling the outbreak “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”

Yet as China’s battle with the coronavirus intensified, Mr. Xi put the country’s No. 2 leader, Li Keqiang, in charge of a leadership group handling the emergency, effectively turning him into the public face of the government’s response. It was Mr. Li who traveled to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, to visit doctors.

That was not without precedent, though it stood out in this crisis, after previous Chinese leaders had used times of disaster to try to show a more common touch. State television and newspapers almost always lead with fawning coverage of Mr. Xi’s every move.

Mr. Xi’s retreat from the spotlight, some analysts said, signaled an effort to insulate himself from a campaign that may falter and draw public ire. Yet Mr. Xi has consolidated power, sidelining or eliminating rivals, so there are few people left to blame when something goes wrong.

In an unusual move to fight the spread of the virus, a county in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak, is offering cash rewards to people who report a fever — whether their own or someone else’s.

China has responded to the epidemic by sealing off large cities, quarantining people en masse and punishing people for failing to report flulike symptoms.

Now, the Fang County government is trying “incentives,” according to a statement posted Saturday on its website. People who report their own fevers will receive 1,000 renminbi, the equivalent of $143 — a few days’ salary for the average Hubei resident.

The statement also said that people who report the fevers of others would receive 500 renminbi, which raised the prospect of neighbors turning each other in. Communist Party cadres who investigate and verify such reports would receive the same amount.

The measures are intended “to promote the early detection, early isolation, early reporting, and early treatment of fever patients, and to ensure the health of the people,” the statement said.

The first confirmed death of an American citizen in the coronavirus outbreak, which the United States Embassy in Beijing reported on Saturday, is likely to raise questions about whether the State Department has done enough to ensure the safety of Americans in China.

Few details about the American, who died in Wuhan on Thursday, were immediately available. The embassy said the person was 60 years old. Two people familiar with the matter said the person was a woman and had underlying health conditions.

It was not clear whether the person had tried to leave Wuhan on any of the flights organized by the State Department, which have evacuated diplomats and other American citizens from the city and other parts of China.

In a statement, the State Department took a defensive tone, saying that since Jan. 29, it had evacuated around 850 people, most of them Americans, on five charter flights out of Wuhan.

The agency said it had “no higher priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” but there are no current plans to conduct additional flights, even as some Americans elsewhere in China have been asking to be evacuated.

The State Department said Americans should heed its Feb. 2 advisory not to travel to China. To demonstrate that its flights appeared to have met the immediate needs of Americans in Wuhan, the department said that its last charter flight, on Thursday, had extra seats after accommodating all Americans on the manifest, so officials were able to offer seats to more than 30 Canadians.

Reporting was contributed by Motoko Rich, Eimi Yamamitsu, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Yonette Joseph, Raphael Minder, Raymond Zhong, Tiffany May, Katherine Li, Li Yuan, Chris Buckley, Steven Lee Myers, Sui-Lee Wee, Austin Ramzy and Edward Wong. Yiwei Wang contributed research.

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