February 5 coronavirus news

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6:56 a.m. ET, February 5, 2020

Woman awaiting coronavirus test result escapes from hospital

A woman who was in an Austrian hospital to be tested for the coronavirus escaped from the premises, officials said.

Karl Schupfer, a press officer for the city of Salzburg, said the 31-year-old patient left the University Clinic Salzburg around 3 a.m. local time Wednesday morning and was found by police in her home near the city at around 10 a.m.

The unidentified woman had been in a hospital since Tuesday, Schupfer said, adding that her motive for escaping was unclear. She is now back in a Salzburg hospital under police watch and is being questioned. Her results are expected later on Wednesday.

Authorities are trying to find out who the patient may have had contact with during her escape. There are currently no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Austria.

6:49 a.m. ET, February 5, 2020

Cruise infections raise questions about how Wuhan coronavirus spreads

A Japanese Coast Guard patrol boat is brought alongside the Diamond Princess cruise ship to transport passengers who have tested positive for coronavirus to hospitals in Yokohama, Japan on Wednesday.
A Japanese Coast Guard patrol boat is brought alongside the Diamond Princess cruise ship to transport passengers who have tested positive for coronavirus to hospitals in Yokohama, Japan on Wednesday. Credit: Hiroko Harima/Kyodo News/AP

The novel coronavirus is thought to spread from person to person through respiratory droplets emitted by coughing or sneezing. There's currently no evidence that the virus is airborne -- meaning, for instance, it doesn't travel across a large room.

Still unknown: An important factor yet to be determined, however, is whether the virus spreads via the fecal-oral route, according to Dr. John Nicholls, a clinical professor in pathology at the University of Hong Kong.

Coronavirus cruise: Norovirus -- a contagious stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea -- and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) both spread by the fecal-oral route. Norovirus is also notorious for infecting cruise passengers.

Viruses like norovirus spread so quickly on cruises because "you've got so many people in a crowded area and people are sharing areas, touching places," Nicholls said.

Questions raised: The infection of at least 10 people aboard a cruise ship now quarantined in Japan is raising questions about whether the Wuhan coronavirus can also spread the same way.

Read more here

5:17 a.m. ET, February 5, 2020

UK to send final flight to evacuate Britons stuck in coronavirus epicenter

Britain will send a second and final plane to evacuate UK nationals from Wuhan province in China, where the coronavirus is believed to have originated. The charter flight is expected to leave on Sunday morning at Royal Air Force base Brize Norton, officials said in a statement. 

“We have been working round the clock to help British nationals leave Hubei province, on UK, French and New Zealand flights," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. 
“I encourage all British nationals in Hubei to register with our teams if they want to leave on this flight,” he added.

On Tuesday, the UK's Foreign Office advised British nationals to leave China.

5:11 a.m. ET, February 5, 2020

Hong Kong coronavirus cases now at 21

There are three new cases of novel coronavirus in Hong Kong, bringing the total confirmed cases in the semi-autonomous Chinese city to 21, the city's leader Carrie Lam announced Wednesday.

In a news conference, Lam said Hong Kong is “seeing a worsening trend of the outbreak,” with six cases confirmed between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Lam said three of the new cases did not travel outside of Hong Kong during the incubation period, which suggests that there may be further community transmission.

Coronavirus death: Lam also said that a 39-year-old man with coronavirus who died in Hong Kong on Tuesday was in a stable condition before his death.

She said that his case has now been referred to the coroner, as doctors were unable to explain the cause of his death.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority said the man had an “underlying disease” without clarifying further.

6:30 a.m. ET, February 5, 2020

Travelers entering Hong Kong from China will be quarantined for 14 days, government says

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Credit: Vincent Yu/AP

All travelers entering Hong Kong from mainland China will be placed under quarantine for 14 days, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced at a news conference today.

The rule includes Hong Kong and mainland residents, Lam said.

There are 21 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the semi-autonomous city, of which three are locally infected cases -- suggesting transmission between the community, rather than being brought in from somewhere else.

Travel restrictions: The government suspended four more border crossings yesterday, which has seen entries by travelers from mainland China drop by 60%, Lam said.

However, the city cannot close all borders because many of the arrivals from the mainland are Hong Kong residents who need to return into the city, she said. Besides, Hong Kong relies on the mainland for crucial supplies including food.

"Closing all borders is not workable and may affect the supply of food and daily necessaries. The measures we applied last few days proved that these measures can decrease the number of arrivals and decrease the risk of infection," Lam said.

What the government has done: The government will allocate over 10 billion Hong Kong dollars (about $1.3 billion) in resources to fight the outbreak, Lam said. It has already closed most of Hong Kong's borders with the mainland -- but many in the medical field say that's not enough, and have been on strike for three days.

4:33 a.m. ET, February 5, 2020

The US has sent supplies and support to Wuhan, China confirms

Staff members and volunteers transfer medical supplies from various sources at a warehouse of an exhibition center which has been converted into a makeshift hospital in Wuhan, on Tuesday.
Staff members and volunteers transfer medical supplies from various sources at a warehouse of an exhibition center which has been converted into a makeshift hospital in Wuhan, on Tuesday. AFP/Getty Images

The US has sent supplies to Wuhan to assist Chinese authorities working to contain the coronavirus outbreak, according to officials from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A batch of US supplies arrived yesterday, with American businesses and institutions also offering support, said ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. She added that the US would participate in a joint expert team consisting of officials from China and the World Health Organization.

"We hope that the US will respect WHO’s authoritative and professional recommendations, react in an objective, fair, calm and evidence-based manner, rather than excessively." Hua said. "It should respect and coordinate with China' prevention and control measures."

Hua's pointed comments come after China blasted the US on Monday, saying that it was overreacting to the coronavirus outbreak, and feeding hysteria with drastic measures while not offering any substantive help.

WHO weighs in: The director general of the WHO has also warned countries not to impose travel and trade restrictions in relation to the outbreak.

"Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement yesterday.

4:05 a.m. ET, February 5, 2020

Chinese police are detaining people who lied about traveling to Wuhan for "endangering public safety"

Chinese police in Beijing on January 31.
Chinese police in Beijing on January 31. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Police in China have detained a growing number of people for defying quarantine measures or deliberately concealing that they had traveled to areas stricken by the coronavirus.

In the northwestern province of Qinghai, police say a migrant worker surnamed Gou is being investigated for suspected “endangering public safety” by “deliberately concealing” his journey to Wuhan.

Gou returned from Wuhan to Hanshuigou village last month, but fabricated his itinerary and return date to village authorities, police said. He also concealed his symptoms of fever and coughing from investigators and actively got in close touch with neighbors, it added.

“What’s particularly abominable is that Gou also concealed his son’s return with him from Wuhan. His son has also been out and about multiple times and in close contact with crowds,” the statement said.

Both Gou and his son have been confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus, and are under quarantine, according to the statement.

They have been accused of breaking China’s criminal law and infectious disease law, the police said.

Over the past week, similar cases have also been reported in the provinces of Jiangxi, Yunnan, Guangxi and Jiangsu, according to state media.

4:04 a.m. ET, February 5, 2020

Basic questions about the coronavirus, answered

Illustration: Alissa Eckert, MS/Dan Higgins, MAM/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Illustration: Alissa Eckert, MS/Dan Higgins, MAM/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

There's still a lot we don't know about the Wuhan coronavirus, and scientists around the world are racing to gather data and develop a treatment.

Here's what we can tell you so far:

  • Is there a cure? No -- but there are signs of progress. Thai doctors say they have successfully treated two patients with a combination of antiviral drugs.
  • What are the symptoms? Coronavirus symptoms can look like the flu -- fever, cough, trouble breathing. If you show these symptoms and recently went to China, or have been in contact with someone who visited, experts advise going to the doctor.
  • How does the virus spread? The virus is thought to spread from person to person through respiratory droplets emitted by coughing or sneezing. There's also a possibility the virus can exist in and spread through contaminated fecal matter. There's currently no evidence that the virus is airborne -- meaning, for instance, it doesn't travel across a large room.
  • Who is at risk of infection? People of all ages can be infected with the virus, but older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions are especially vulnerable to severe complications.
  • How can I protect myself? Take the same precautionary measures you would during flu season. Wash your hands often with soap and water, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, avoid close contact with people or large gatherings, and wear a face mask.
  • Is it safe to travel? Airlines have suspended flights, and thousands of foreign citizens in the Chinese city of Wuhan have been evacuated back to their home countries. Many countries including the US have advised against travel to China.
4:10 a.m. ET, February 5, 2020

First phase of screening completed on quarantined ship in Japan

Workers in protective gear hold up a sheet as a passenger is transferred into a waiting ambulance at the Japan Coast Guard base in Yokohama on February 5 after being brought from the cruise ship Diamond Princess.
Workers in protective gear hold up a sheet as a passenger is transferred into a waiting ambulance at the Japan Coast Guard base in Yokohama on February 5 after being brought from the cruise ship Diamond Princess. Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

Princess Cruises, the operator of the Diamond Princess cruise ship currently under quarantine off the coast of Japan, said in a statement that the first phase of health screenings on board had been completed.

After the ship docked in Yokohama Bay, officials from the Japanese Ministry of Health screened all guests and crew on board, and found 10 people who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Those 10 people -- nine passengers and one crew member -- will be taken ashore to local hospitals for care, said the statement. Meanwhile, all those remaining on the ship will stay under quarantine for at least 14 days.

"The ship plans to go out to sea to perform normal marine operations including, but not limited to, the production of fresh water and ballast operations before proceeding alongside in Yokohama where food, provisions, and other supplies will be brought on board.
"Guests will continue to be provided complimentary internet and telephone to use in order to stay in contact with their family and loved ones, and the ship’s crew is working to keep all guests comfortable," said the statement.

The passengers on board: There are 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew currently on board, the company said. About half the guests on board are from Japan, and 428 are American.