January 31 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Jessie Yeung, Steve George and Fernando Alfonso, CNN

Updated 1:48 p.m. ET, February 4, 2020
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4:53 a.m. ET, January 31, 2020

Schools in Hong Kong will stay suspended until March 2

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference on January 31, 2020.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference on January 31, 2020. PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images

In a press conference early Friday evening, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam urged residents to stay vigilant and announced further measures by the government to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Here are the highlights:

  • The numbers: There are now 12 confirmed cases of the virus in Hong Kong, five of which are Hong Kong residents and seven are mainland Chinese residents, Lam said.
  • School suspended: Primary and secondary schools were originally set to resume on February 17, but will now stay suspended until March 2. The government will re-evaluate at that point whether to resume classes, depending on the status of the outbreak.
  • Stay at home: Lam urged students and employees of suspended businesses to stay home instead of using the free time to go outside -- the point of these suspensions is "social distancing," to diminish crowds and gatherings.
  • Border crossings: Lam had announced travel restrictions and some border closings earlier this week. The number of arrivals from mainland China across different border points had dropped 91% since two weeks ago, she said today.
  • Additional measures: Lam said the city government had adopted measures like early identification and close tracking of infected patients, but would continue adopting measures suggested by the World Health Organization, like selective screening at international borders.
  • Travel warning: Lam urged Hong Kong residents not to visit the mainland, warning that "this will increase the risk of being infected."
6:07 a.m. ET, January 31, 2020

First two coronavirus cases confirmed in UK

From CNN's Mick Krever

The first two cases of Wuhan coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK, according to the Chief Medical Officer for England.

The patients, who are members of the same family, are being treated by the National Health Service in Newcastle, northeast England, the UK's PA media news agency reported.

“The patients are receiving specialist NHS care, and we are using tried and tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus," Professor Chris Whitty said in a statement, adding that health officials were working to identify any other people the patients may have come into contact with.

We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately. We are continuing to work closely with the World Health Organization and the international community as the outbreak in China develops to ensure we are ready for all eventualities.”
4:35 a.m. ET, January 31, 2020

Germany confirms its fifth case of the coronavirus

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt

The Muenchen Klinik Schwabing hospital in Munich, Germany, where doctors are treating a coronavirus patient.
The Muenchen Klinik Schwabing hospital in Munich, Germany, where doctors are treating a coronavirus patient. Lennart Preiss/Getty Images

Germany has confirmed its fifth case of Wuhan coronavirus, in the southern state of Bavaria, according to a statement from the Bavarian Health Ministry on Thursday.

The male patient is employed at the same workplace as the other four people who contracted the virus from a co-worker visiting from China. 

The Chinese staff member is originally from Shanghai and has since flown back to China. She felt ill on the flight back and tested positive for the coronavirus after her return to Shanghai.

The statement goes on to read that no further employees who work for the company in Bavaria tested positive for the virus.

Around 110 people who were in close contact with all infected patients are still being tested for the novel coronavirus.

Why this matters: These German cases are significant because most people diagnosed with the virus outside of China have recently traveled to the country -- but several of these German cases did not.

4:31 a.m. ET, January 31, 2020

India says it will fly 400 citizens out of Wuhan 

From CNN’s Vedika Sud in New Delhi

A “special” flight will leave on Friday for the Chinese city of Wuhan and bring back about 400 Indian citizens, said the chief managing director of the Air India airline.

The passengers will land in New Delhi by 2 a.m. local time on Sunday. The Health Ministry and Foreign Affairs Ministry will make further arrangements once the passengers arrive, said the director.

India is just the latest country to evacuate its citizens from the epicenter of the outbreak. Other countries also doing so include the US, UK, Japan, South Korea, Spain, and France.

4:48 a.m. ET, January 31, 2020

South Koreans evacuated from Wuhan return home to protesters and supporters

From CNN's Yoonjung Seo in Asan, South Korea

Park Jin-ah, the daughter of a restaurant owner in Asan, South Korea.
Park Jin-ah, the daughter of a restaurant owner in Asan, South Korea. Yoonjung Seo/CNN

The 200 South Koreans who were flown home from Wuhan, China, on Friday were met with a mixed reception.

In the city of Asan, where the evacuated residents will be quarantined for 14 days, some residents held up welcome signs.

But others in Asan protested the evacuees' presence, worried that they would bring the coronavirus to the region.

Park Jin-ah is the daughter of a restaurant owner near the health facility where the evacuees will be quarantined. Her entire family is so worried that they are calling for her to leave Asan, she told CNN.

My sister and brother are calling me to move my parents to a safer place," she said.

But Park is more worried about going to Seoul and other areas where infected people may travel before being diagnosed. “I’m not so worried here because all these people from Wuhan came directly from the airport to the quarantine facility,” she added.

Some background: Only people who didn't show any symptoms were allowed to board the flights from Wuhan to South Korea, the government said.

The evacuees are staying in government-provided facilities in Asan and Jincheon, both in Chungcheong Province, and will receive medical check-ups twice a day.

4:31 a.m. ET, January 31, 2020

Hong Kong police pledge to "join hands" with the public to fight the outbreak

Riot police at the site of a protest in Hong Kong on January 26, 2020.
Riot police at the site of a protest in Hong Kong on January 26, 2020. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

The Hong Kong police force issued a statement earlier today urging the public not to believe online rumors and pledging support for the community.

The statement read:

"Ill-intentioned people have once again spread false information online, claiming that district police stations are giving out free face masks to the public. These rumour-mongers have also claimed that the Government will supply a large amount of face masks to the family members of Police officers. Police must squash such misinformation and remind the public not to be misled. 
The Hong Kong Police Force pledges to stand firm and join hands with people from all walks of life to fight this battle against the epidemic."

City authorities have urged residents to avoid handshakes and close contact with people as they work to contain the virus. School has been suspended for the week, with many businesses closing temporarily or employees told to work from home.

A divided city: The police's pledge to "join hands" with the public may also ring hollow for those who have spent the past eight months clashing with those very officers.

Hong Kong was thrown into political chaos and violence last June by anti-government, pro-democracy protests. For months, the city was consumed with heated battles between protesters and police. Some protesters accuse officers of excessive force and police brutality -- allegations the force strongly denies.

3:58 a.m. ET, January 31, 2020

The WHO has declared an international emergency. What does that actually mean?

Analysis by CNN's James Griffiths

Officials from the World Health Organization discuss the coronavirus on January 30.
Officials from the World Health Organization discuss the coronavirus on January 30. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

One week, a dozen countries and almost 200 more deaths after initially declining to declare the Wuhan virus a global health emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday did just that.

Following a meeting of its emergency committee in Geneva, the WHO agreed "that the outbreak now meets the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern" (PHEIC).

"The Committee emphasized that the declaration of a PHEIC should be seen in the spirit of support and appreciation for China, its people, and the actions China has taken on the frontlines of this outbreak, with transparency, and, it is to be hoped, with success," it added.
"In line with the need for global solidarity, the Committee felt that a global coordinated effort is needed to enhance preparedness in other regions of the world that may need additional support for that."

Before this week, a PHEIC has been declared five times, for the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemics, twice in 2014 for polio and Ebola, the 2016 Zika virus outbreak, and for the 2018 Ebola outbreak.

Is this significant? While the decision was headline news -- and the failure to do so earlier had attracted considerable criticism -- it is largely a political move, a signal to governments around the world to take this outbreak seriously if they were not already and reminder to them of their WHO commitments.

The statement added that "all countries" should be prepared for additional measures, and that they are legally required to share information with the WHO under the International Health Regulations (IHR).

Some background: The IHR was introduced in 2005 and agreed upon by 196 countries around the world -- but the agreement is largely toothless.

Recommendations, even under a PHEIC, are typically non-binding. There are also no in-built sanctions or punishments for states failing to comply with their obligations under the IHR, many of which rely on governments to self-report their progress.

There are also concerns "that Emergency Committees are influenced by politics rather than strictly reviewing scientific evidence," wrote several medical law experts in The Lancet in 2015.

3:53 a.m. ET, January 31, 2020

Hong Kong researchers are working on a mask that can be washed and reused, lawmaker says

From CNN's Begona Blanco Munoz

Face masks are selling out in places ranging from Hong Kong to Texas as the coronavirus spreads.
Face masks are selling out in places ranging from Hong Kong to Texas as the coronavirus spreads. Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong's Polytechnic University has developed new face masks that could be reusable for up to 70 times, according to local reports.

Lawmaker Felix Chung told CNN the project was led by both the university and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel. Researchers are working to develop a new antibacterial material that could be used in various textile products -- including face masks.

They are producing samples, which will hopefully be ready by Monday, Chung said. Once the samples are ready, the teams can gauge whether they are ready for public distribution.

A fire below by the barricaded main entrance of Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019.
A fire below by the barricaded main entrance of Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18, 2019. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

A different battle: The university may be at the forefront of the global fight against the outbreak -- but just a few months ago, it was a smoldering battleground, wrecked by fire and tear gas in a very different fight.

The university became a significant protest site during anti-government, pro-democracy unrest that rocked Hong Kong during the entire second half of 2019.

Protesters in November occupied the university for more than a week, and fought off riot police laying siege to the campus. Images at the time showed building entrances on fire, petrol bombs, makeshift weapons like bows and arrows, and clouds of tear gas.

It also became a powerful symbol of the conflict: young, angry Hong Kongers on a school campus, some declaring they were ready to give their lives to win the city greater freedoms.

3:37 a.m. ET, January 31, 2020

Coronavirus hoaxes are spreading in the US

From CNN's Faith Karimi and Sarah Moon

As the coronavirus outbreak grows, US state officials are cracking down on false information online that spreads fear about the virus.

In Los Angeles County, public health officials warned residents Thursday about a fake letter claiming a potential coronavirus outbreak in Carson City.

The letter purports to be from the LA County Department of Public Health and features the logos of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and Los Angeles County.

"There is no immediate threat to the general public, no special precautions are required and people should not be excluded from activities based on their race, country of origin, or recent travel if they do not have symptoms of respiratory illness," the health department said.

Similar false rumors have spread of the virus arriving in California's Santa Clarita, Orange County, and San Diego -- and in other states like Arizona. Officials in all these locations have warned residents that the rumors are false.

Read more here.