Beijing has ordered a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers returning to the city, with novel coronavirus cases continuing to rise in China and international experts warning there’s no immediate end in sight.
Beijing authorities announced Friday night local time that all people returning to the Chinese capital would be required to stay at home or under observation for 14 days in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.
Those who violate the new quarantine rules may face legal repercussions.
The order comes as authorities across the country attempt to contain the spread of the deadly virus, known officially as Covid-19. The past week has seen a huge spike in numbers, partially due to the government’s broadening of the definitions for a confirmed case.
China’s National Health Commission said on Saturday that the nationwide death toll had increased by 143 and the number of cases had jumped 2,641 from the previous day.
The commission’s new numbers also reveal that medical workers in China have been hit hard; 1,716 medics have been infected so far, including six who have died.
That brings the total number of cases globally to more than 67,000, and the global death toll to more than 1,520. The vast majority of these figures are within mainland China and concentrated in Hubei Province, where the virus originated.
Outside of China, more than 600 cases have been confirmed, including 286 cases on a cruise ship docked in Japan; the United States government is sending a charter plane on Sunday to evacuate Americans on board who wish to leave.
On Saturday, France’s Health Minister confirmed that a Chinese tourist who tested positive for the virus had become the first person to die in the outbreak in Europe.
The patient, who was 80 years old, had been receiving treatment at the Bichat Hospital in Paris since January 25, according to a statement from French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn.
The virus will continue “beyond this season, this year”
Friday marked the first confirmed coronavirus case in Africa, with a single patient in Egypt. Countries worldwide have implemented stringent emergency measures in the wake of the outbreak – but these containment efforts may only slow down the spread of the virus, not end it, said US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield on Thursday.
Instead, these efforts may buy precious time for scientists, who are racing to develop a vaccine. There is currently no treatment or cure for Covid-19.
The fight against the virus is made more complicated by how little we know – researchers are still learning more about how it survives, transmits, and replicates.
“This virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission (in the United States),” warned Redfield. “The containment phase is really to give us more time.”
The CDC has offered to send experts to China, but the offer has not yet been accepted. Instead, a World Health Organization-led joint mission to China is expected to touch down this weekend, bringing together international and WHO experts and their Chinese national counterparts.
The joint mission will review data and make field visits to decide what the next steps of response and containment should be, both in China and globally.
Toll of outbreak felt globally
The coronavirus has now spread to 28 countries – with Japan reporting the highest number of cases outside China.
There has been one death and 334 confirmed cases in Japan, 286 of which are from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that is currently docked in Yokohama Bay under quarantine. On Saturday, Japan’s health minister confirmed that another 67 people from the ship tested positive for the virus, as well as nine more people not from the ship.
The cruise has been quarantined with more than 3,700 people on board since February 4, and the quarantine is scheduled to end on February 19.
Countries are working to assist and retrieve their citizens from the ship; The United States is sending charter planes to evacuate US citizens and their families Sunday evening local time. Those who choose to fly back on the evacuation planes will be quarantined for 14 days once they arrive.
Hong Kong has also sent four officials to the ship, to deliver supplies to 11 infected citizens on board.
Another cruise ship, the Westerdam, also found itself stranded for several days this week after being turned away from four Asian ports over coronavirus fears – despite there being no suspected cases on board. Passengers were finally allowed to dock and disembark in Cambodia on Friday.
The coronavirus has also sent reverberations through the global economy. China is struggling to return to work after businesses were shut and schools suspended for weeks. Millions are now working from home, with Chinese President Xi Jinping warning on Monday that the country needed to stabilize its economy and avoid mass layoffs.
“This is continuing to grow in scope and magnitude. It could end being really, really big, and really, really serious,” said William Reinsch, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.