February 1 coronavirus news

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4:39 a.m. ET, February 1, 2020

Australia confirms new cases, bringing total to 12

From CNN’s Sharif Paget in Atlanta

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Australia reached 12 on Saturday after South Australia confirmed its first two cases and Victoria confirmed its fourth.

A woman and a man, both aged 60, have been diagnosed with the virus and are in isolation at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, according to a statement posted on the South Australia Health Facebook page.

The two patients arrived in Adelaide from Wuhan on January 20, the statement said.

“They have been isolated in a home since arriving and appropriate precautions will be taken upon presentation to the [hospital].”

The relative whom the two people were staying with is being tested and is in isolation, the statement added. 

Tourists wear protective masks in Sydney.
Tourists wear protective masks in Sydney.  Photo: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

The latest person to be confirmed with novel coronavirus in Victoria is a woman in her 20s, Victoria’s department of Health and Human services said in a statement. She was confirmed positive on Friday following a series of tests.

The woman is a resident of Melbourne and is recovering at home, the health department said. The department added that she spent time in Wuhan and returned home to Victoria on January 25. She became sick two days later. She was seen by doctors in a Melbourne hospital on January 30 and was “assessed as well enough to stay at home.��

4:42 a.m. ET, February 1, 2020

Hong Kong and Taiwan confirm new cases

From Chermaine Lee in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has confirmed its 13th case of the new coronavirus, the government said in a statement on Saturday. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Centre for Disease Control said on Friday the number of cases in its territory reached 10.

The center said Taiwan’s new case, a man in his forties, is the husband of the ninth confirmed case. He returned to Taiwan from Wuhan on January 12 and developed symptoms of upper respiratory infection on January 21.

The new case in Hong Kong is a 39-year-old man who was reported to have developed muscle pain on January 29 and started having a fever on Friday.

He is currently in a stable condition and in isolation in hospital.

New cases were confirmed in Taiwan on Friday.
New cases were confirmed in Taiwan on Friday. Photo: Sam Yeh / AFP

5:22 a.m. ET, February 1, 2020

Hospitals are being urgently built for coronavirus patients in Wuhan

From CNN's Julia Hollingsworth and James Griffiths

Two purpose-built hospitals in Wuhan, constructed in under a week, are due to start accepting patients on Monday and Thursday respectively, according to Chinese state media.

They have 2,500 beds between them, and will be focused purely on dealing with confirmed and suspected cases of the coronavirus, providing some much-needed relief to Wuhan's stretched health system.

Public healthcare crisis: Patients, medical staff and experts have told CNN of an already overburdened health system creaking under the enormous weight of a rapidly expanding outbreak.

According to a nurse in Wuhan who asked not to be identified for fear of professional repercussions, staff are overwhelmed, resources are running low, and there are no beds.

Around 30 of the 500 medical staff at her hospital are now sick and admitted to hospital, and others -- including her -- have self-quarantined at home.

Take a look at the hospitals being built:

4:10 a.m. ET, February 1, 2020

Hubei is suspending marriage registrations...to fight the virus

Hubei Province, home to Wuhan city where the outbreak began, is suspending all marriage license registrations until further notice.

The suspension will begin on February 3 to prevent the spread of the outbreak, "protect public health, and safeguard public interests," said the province in a statement on its website.

It's just the latest of a series of drastic measures in the province -- in one other city near Wuhan, every household is only allowed one representative to leave the house and buy groceries every other day.

Nearly 60 million people, mostly in Hubei, are under partial or full lockdown -- this means limited movement in or out of cities and towns, closed roads, and suspended public transit.

3:50 a.m. ET, February 1, 2020

People are lining up to buy a traditional Chinese remedy said to help fight coronavirus

From CNN's Nectar Gan

Could a traditional Chinese medicine help fight the Wuhan coronavirus, or is one of the country's most influential state media outlets promoting pseudoscience and false hope?

Those were the questions dominating Chinese social media after the state-run Xinhua news agency reported Friday that the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica and the Wuhan Institute of Virology had discovered that the Shuanghuanglian oral liquid -- a popular combined herbal remedy commonly used to relieve some symptoms such as fever, cough, and sore throat -- could be used to "inhibit" the deadly virus.

Posts on Weibo, China's Twitter-like platform, purportedly showed people lining up all night outside pharmacies across China to buy Shuanghuanglian, ironically going against the authorities' advice to avoid congregating in public. 

Such was the apparent demand sparked by the notice that the compound formula sold out on some stores on China's e-commerce platform Taobao.

On Saturday, however, the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily, warned that "inhibiting does not equal preventing and treating," reminding the public not to rush to purchase the herbal remedy. The findings still needed to be studied, and there are no proven treatments for the virus yet, it said.

Some background: Though many TCM remedies have been used for hundreds of years, critics argue that there is no verifiable scientific evidence to support their supposed benefits.

But in 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave its long-awaited nod to include TCM in its influential book classifying thousands of diseases -- its first-ever official endorsement of the ancient practice.

Read more about it here.

3:30 a.m. ET, February 1, 2020

Thousands of Hong Kong medical staff will vote on strike action over demands to close Chinese border

From journalist Vanessa Yung

A medical staff member at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong on January 26, 2020.
A medical staff member at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong on January 26, 2020. PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of Hong Kong public medical staff will be voting Saturday evening on whether to strike on Monday if the government does not agree to demands to completely close the Chinese border.

13,000 members will vote ahead of the possible walkout next week, said Winnie Yu, chairwoman of the the medical workers' union Hospital Authority Employees Alliance.

Yu also said that 6,500 medical staff are backing the action, of which 70% are nurses, 8% doctors, 13% therapists, and the rest are administrative and support staff.

Separately, the Hong Kong West Cluster (one of 7 Hong Kong medical wards) released a statement announcing that over 1,100 of its medical staff have signed an open appeal to the government to ban all visitors from mainland China.

The statement adds that the staff are considering strike action Monday if their demands are not met.

What the government has done: The city government has already imposed travel restrictions on travelers from mainland China and closed some borders.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has pushed back on demands to close all border, arguing that doing so would bar "a large number" of Hong Kong citizens coming back from China.

She added yesteday that with the new measures, the number of mainland Chinese arrivals across different border points had dropped 91% since two weeks ago, 

3:24 a.m. ET, February 1, 2020

Air India flight leaves Wuhan with over 300 Indian citizens on board

From CNN’s Vedika Sud

An a Air India flight carrying 324 Indian nationals took off from Wuhan early on Saturday, according a tweet from the Indian embassy in Beijing.

The tweet said that most of the passengers on Saturday were Indian students, and that the embassy is looking to operate another flight for remaining Indian citizens in Wuhan.

“We sincerely thank the Chinese government for facilitating this flight, “ the tweet also said.

3:13 a.m. ET, February 1, 2020

How long will the outbreak go on for, and what's being done?

From CNN's James Griffiths

Construction for new hospitals on January 28, 2020 in Wuhan, China.
Construction for new hospitals on January 28, 2020 in Wuhan, China. Getty Images

China has allocated almost $4 billion to fighting the virus, and sent thousands of extra doctors, nurses and military medics to Hubei province -- the epicenter of the outbreak.

Two hospitals were built in under a week in Wuhan, and are due to start accepting patients on Monday and Thursday, according to state media. They will focus specifically on coronavirus patients, providing some relief to Wuhan's stretched health system.

On Friday, the country's National Health Commission (NHC) said it was "confident in and capable of effectively containing the novel coronavirus epidemic, and eventually defeating it."

The Lunar New Year holiday will be extended in Hubei to an "appropriate extent," authorities said.

But it remains unclear how long parts of the country can continue to remain under lockdown, both from the perspective of making sure they have crucial supplies like food, and from an economic point -- both the national finances and people's personal pocketbooks will be taking a massive hit from next week.

3:04 a.m. ET, February 1, 2020

The UK will withdraw non-essential consulate staff from China

Buses transporting British and foreign nationals who had been evacuated from Wuhan to Brize Norton, England.
Buses transporting British and foreign nationals who had been evacuated from Wuhan to Brize Norton, England. Leon Neal/Getty Images

The UK will withdraw some staff and dependants from the British Embassy and consulates in China, said an updated advisory from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

The staff are being brought back from China as of January 31.

"Essential staff needed to continue critical work will remain," said the advisory. "In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the British Embassy and Consulates to provide assistance to British nationals from within China may be limited."

The FCO is urging against all travel to Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. The British Consulate in Wuhan, the city where it all started, is closed.