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Coronavirus cases top 20,000 as epidemic spreads to other cities

Wuhan University Zhongnan Hospital (Zhangmoon618/WikiCommons)
February 04, 2020

Health officials in China on Tuesday said that more than 400 people had died of coronavirus infections by Tuesday evening, with more than 20,000 confirmed cases globally, as local governments continued to announce lockdowns in cities and counties with the spread of the epidemic outwards from Wuhan.

A total of 20,520 coronavirus cases were confirmed globally, with the number of cases in the central province of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital, still the highest, at 13,500.

Of the 426 officially recorded deaths from coronavirus, 414 have been in Hubei, where the authorities have scrambled to open a 10,000-bed emergency hospital built using prefabricated buildings in just 10 days. A second hospital is still under construction.

But as the number of confirmed cases grows in other major cities, local governments are shutting schools and public facilities in places hundreds of miles from Wuhan.

Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou this week deployed large numbers of riot police after angry local residents clashed with police after being denied access to their own homes.

The authorities announced a total lockdown of the city, which has seen hundreds of cases of novel coronavirus — named nCoV-2019 (Wuhan) by the World Health Organization (WHO) after the central Chinese city at the epicenter of the epidemic.

The Wenzhou municipal authorities announced that stringent measures would be brought in from Feb. 2-8, with long-distance transportation to the city suspended and police checkpoints on the streets looking for suspected cases, according to video clips seen by RFA.

The scenes were in sharp contrast to reports from Wuhan, where the number of cases is suspected to be many times more than the official figures because fever patients are routinely turned away by the city’s overwhelmed hospitals.

Residents returning from Wuhan were forcibly cut off from their homes by the authorities on Sunday and Monday, sparking clashes and the deployment of hundreds of riot police, according to social media video sent to RFA.

“The reason there are so many cases [of coronavirus] in Wenzhou is that there are a lot of people here who do business in Wuhan, and they all came home for Lunar New Year,” a Wenzhou resident surnamed Chen said in a video sent to RFA.

‘Critical stage’ in Wenzhou

By the end of Monday, the eastern province of Zhejiang, where Wenzhou is located, had reported 724 confirmed cases of coronavirus, while the worst-hit province of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital, reported 11,177 confirmed cases and 350 deaths during the same period.

Wenzhou ruling Chinese Communist Party chief Chen Weijun told an emergency meeting on Sunday that the epidemic’s spread was still at a “critical stage” and officials who fail to take responsibility will be punished.

Two health officials in one district of the city have already been fired for “dereliction of duty,” state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

City officials say that some 170,000 people from Wenzhou live and do business in Wuhan, and there are 7,375 Hubei-based members of the Wenzhou Chamber of Commerce, Reuters reported.

State broadcaster CCTV said that an estimated 48,800 people had returned to Wenzhou from Wuhan and other parts of Hubei.

“Things are very inconvenient right now, because only one person is allowed out every couple of days from each household to buy food and daily necessities,” Chen, who heads a clothing company in Wenzhou, said.

She said many people in Wenzhou were taken by surprise at the sudden announcement and the restrictions to their daily lives.

Major highways in the city and expressways leading out of the city have been sealed off, and movie theaters, swimming pools and other public facilities shut down, she said.

A Wenzhou resident surnamed Quan told Reuters that the city is famous for its private entrepreneurs, and its residents are used to being highly mobile.

“Wenzhou is a place that is well known for its businesspeople who do business abroad and since Wuhan is in the centre (of China), there are a large number of Wenzhou people doing business in Wuhan and around in the country,” Quan said.

Now, the city’s businesses won’t be allowed to reopen until Feb. 18, while schools will stay closed until March 1, one of the longest suspensions in the country.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking,” Toby Ye, a student from Wenzhou, told Reuters. “It’s a different city from the one I’m used to.”

Travel restrictions

Authorities in Zhejiang’s Songyang county have implemented similar measures, in a bid to control the spread of the virus, according to an official notice posted to the social media platform WeChat.

“Travel restrictions for residents will be in place from midnight on Feb. 4, 2020,” the notice said.

“Each family … may assign one family member to go out to purchase daily necessities every other day,” it said.

“Nobody else will be allowed to go out, other than for epidemic prevention and control work, seeking medical treatment, or to work in markets, supermarkets and pharmacies,” the statement said.

It said the measures would be enforced using the nationwide “grid” system that breaks up districts into grids with a few households in each square for tighter monitoring and surveillance.

“The timing of the end of the restrictions will be announced at a later date,” the notice, signed by the “Coronavirus Pneumonia” Prevention and Control Command Center of Songyang County,” said.

Hong Kong authorities reported the city’s first death from coronavirus, that of a 39-year-old man who had previously traveled to Wuhan.

In Macau, the authorities have shuttered the city’s iconic casinos in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus there.

The city’s chief executive Ho Iat-seng said the government will also temporarily shut down, leaving only emergency services on duty.

Ho called on all residents to stay home and only go out to buy food.

Meanwhile, the democratic island of Taiwan has closed its borders to anyone who has visited mainland China in the past two weeks, with the exception of its own nationals.

“Starting Feb. 7, 2020, foreign nationals who have visited or resided in the PRC over the past 14 days before they arrive in Taiwan will be prohibited from entering Taiwan (including those who are eligible for visa-free treatment, landing visas, and e-visas, as well as those carrying valid visas),” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.