February 7 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Jenni Marsh, Adam Renton and Amy Woodyatt, CNN

Updated 0136 GMT (0936 HKT) February 8, 2020
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12:27 a.m. ET, February 7, 2020

Chinese official: The virus can be "prevented, contained, and cured"

 Xie Feng, commissioner of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong.
Xie Feng, commissioner of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong.

Chinese officials praised the country's response to the coronavirus crisis at a news conference today -- but sidestepped questions about the death of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang.

The virus, which has killed 636 people in mainland China, can be "prevented, contained, and cured," said Xie Feng, commissioner of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong.

"It is the strength of China’s system that reflects such confidence," he added.

He emphasized China's speed in responding to the outbreak, claiming "governments at all levels in China were immediately mobilized."

Fact check: In the weeks after the virus was first detected, authorities clamped down with knee-jerk censorship. Communist Party officials downplayed the severity of the virus, police targeted "rumormongers" like Li Wenliang, and online censors deleted anything that questioned the official line.

As the crisis has worsened, it has become clear that the failure to take quick action likely undermined any chance of containing the virus.

On Li Wenliang: When asked whether the government should apologize for the death of Li Wenliang, Xie Feng didn't answer directly, only reading out a brief statement from the Wuhan government that expressed "deepest condolences" to Li's family.

On censorship: Despite heavy anger from the Chinese public against the government and its censors, Xie Feng claimed there was freedom of speech in mainland China.

”The Chinese enjoy freedom of speech and access to information according to the law," he said. “If you go online you can see how freely and (actively) people online engage in lively discussions about the epidemic."
12:13 a.m. ET, February 7, 2020

The global death toll has reached 639

From CNN's Steven Jiang in Beijing and Jaide Garcia in Atlanta.

Medical staff preparing beds for patients at a converted hospital in Wuhan, Hubei, on February 5, 2020.
Medical staff preparing beds for patients at a converted hospital in Wuhan, Hubei, on February 5, 2020. STR/AFP via Getty Images

China's National Health Commission confirmed last night that 73 more people have died of the Wuhan coronavirus, raising the global death toll to 638.

Death toll

  • In mainland China: 636
  • Outside mainland China: 2
  • Global total: 638

Confirmed cases

  • In mainland China: 31,161
  • Outside mainland China: 318 (plus two cases pending confirmation in Canada)
  • Global total: 31,479

Some context: The vast majority of these cases and deaths are happening in China, and within that country it's concentrated in Hubei province, where the outbreak began.

In Hubei alone, the death toll stands at 618 and total confirmed cases is at 22,112. 

Hubei's health authority also reported that 841 patients of the 15,804 hospitalized are in critical condition.

11:57 p.m. ET, February 6, 2020

South Korea confirms one additional case of Wuhan coronavirus

From CNN's Yoonjung Seo in Seoul

South Korea's Ministry of Health and Welfare confirmed one new case of Wuhan coronavirus today, bringing the national total to 24 confirmed cases. 

The patient was one of two South Koreans who were evacuated from Wuhan and tested for infection today. The other did not test positive.

11:37 p.m. ET, February 6, 2020

Li Wenliang didn't set out to be a hero. That's why his death has sparked such deep grief in China

From CNN's Serenitie Wang

Li Wenliang, the Chinese whistleblower doctor in Wuhan who died on February 6, 2020.
Li Wenliang, the Chinese whistleblower doctor in Wuhan who died on February 6, 2020. Li Wenliang

The death of Chinese whistleblower Li Wenliang after he became infected with the novel coronavirus has sparked an unprecedented outpouring of grief and anger toward the government in China. On social media, mourners have posted portraits and artwork of Li, vowing not to forget him.

But one of the reasons his death was met with such deep emotion from the public was because he was just an ordinary person they could relate to. He hadn't set out to be a hero from the beginning -- he was simply trying to protect his friends.

He first warned about the disease in a group chat with fellow medical school classmates and alumni -- messages that were screen-captured and then went viral.

"I only wanted to remind my university classmates to be careful," he told CNN earlier this week.

Li hadn't wanted to become a public figure -- he was first interviewed anonymously by the China Youth Daily newspaper, and initially refused to speak with foreign media.

But as the outbreak spread and its severity became clear, he spoke more publicly, eventually posting about his experience on social media.

A relatable figure: On Weibo, China's Twitter-like platform, Li posted trivial things about himself.

He was a foodie who sometimes craved ice cream and fried chicken. He was a fanboy of certain celebrities, watched popular TV series, and sometimes complained about work, as you do on social media.

In other words, he was an ordinary, relatable figure. People who flocked to his social media profile resonated with him and his tragedy, and came away with the sense: He's one of us.

11:22 p.m. ET, February 6, 2020

Canadian evacuation flight has left Wuhan with 176 citizens on board

An evacuation flight bringing Canadian citizens out of Wuhan has departed with 176 passengers on board, according to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne.

The Canadian evacuees were checked by health officials for symptoms before entering the airport and boarding the plane, and will be continuously monitored during the flight, said officials yesterday.

They will be checked again and quarantined once they land.

11:08 p.m. ET, February 6, 2020

All of its neighbors have it, so why hasn't North Korea reported any coronavirus cases?

From CNN's Joshua Berlinger and Yoonjung Seo

Quarantine staff in protective gear are pictured at Pyongyang International Airport on Saturday.
Quarantine staff in protective gear are pictured at Pyongyang International Airport on Saturday. Kyodo News/Getty Images

Nearly every country and territory in East Asia has confirmed a case of the Wuhan coronavirus since the outbreak began in December -- but not North Korea.

One of the world's poorest countries has managed to avoid the virus, its public statements say -- even though every country and territory within a 1,500-mile radius, except for sparsely populated Mongolia, has confirmed a case.

What this means: It's unclear how North Korea has been able to avoid the virus. Pyongyang has either been very lucky, isn't saying something, or is reaping one of the few benefits of being a so-called "hermit nation."

Pyongyang has not publicly acknowledged any confirmed coronavirus patients, but it's very possible someone inside North Korea has been infected, said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University and former head of South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS),

Nam suspects a Chinese patient could have infected someone from North Korea across their shared border.

"We know that the Chinese regions close to the North Korean border, such as Dandong and Shenyang, have confirmed patients. About 90% of North Korean trade is with China and we know so many people, trucks and trains passed through the border between the two nations before North Korea installed recent regulations" to stop the virus from getting into the country, Nam told CNN.

Read more here.

10:53 p.m. ET, February 6, 2020

A college in Maine quarantined a group of students who visited China

From CNN’s Alec Snyder

Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Shutterstock

A group of Colby College students in Waterville, Maine, who recently visited mainland China, have been "relocated and isolated" as a precaution, a Colby spokesman told CNN.

However, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it did not request the quarantine.

Maine CDC did not mandate this decision and was not consulted before the alternative housing was provided,” said CDC spokesman Robert Long.

There are no confirmed cases of the virus in Maine and the risk to the public is low, he added.

Colby's response: The private liberal arts college told CNN the quarantined students did not show any symptoms of the virus.

All students are still continuing their coursework without interruption, the college statement said.

When asked for more information about where the students are staying, the college directed all questions to the CDC and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

10:39 p.m. ET, February 6, 2020

Two more flights carrying Americans fleeing coronavirus leave Wuhan

Delta Air Lines planes at John F. Kennedy Airport on January 31, 2020 in New York.
Delta Air Lines planes at John F. Kennedy Airport on January 31, 2020 in New York. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The last two evacuation planes carrying US citizens out of Wuhan have left the coronavirus epicenter, according to a State Department spokesperson.

One flight is heading for Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, while the other is going to Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska.

The staff in Omaha is expecting around 70 people while San Antonio is prepared for as many as 250 passengers, officials said.

The State Department does not anticipate chartering any flights after this week, an official said Tuesday.

10:19 p.m. ET, February 6, 2020

Grief, anger, and calls for freedom in China after whistleblower doctor dies

From CNN's James Griffiths

China's social media channels were awash with anger following news of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang's death.

The topics "Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology," and "We want freedom of speech," quickly trended on China's Twitter-like platform, Weibo. Each gained tens of thousands of views before disappearing from the heavily censored platform.

Another topic, called "I want freedom of speech," had drawn 1.8 million views as of early Friday morning local time.

Under the Wuhan Central Hospital's statement about Li's death, a top comment read, "Countless young people will mature overnight after today: the world is not as beautiful as we imagined. Are you angry? If any of us here is fortunate enough to speak up for the public in the future, please make sure you remember tonight's anger."

Why this matters: The outpouring of grief and anger was made worse by initial confusion. State media first published then retracted reports of his death -- leading to allegations they were trying to cover it up.

The push against Chinese censors and calls for freedom are rarely seen -- under Chinese President Xi Jinping, control over the media and internet has increased, and tolerance for dissent has practically disappeared.

Anger in China against the authorities, and their handling of the crisis, had already been growing for weeks. Now, Li's death could become the straw that breaks the camel's back.