February 12 coronavirus news

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2:55 a.m. ET, February 12, 2020

Airbnb suspends bookings in Beijing until end of April

The logo of the online lodging service Airbnb displayed on a smartphone.
The logo of the online lodging service Airbnb displayed on a smartphone. LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images

Airbnb will extend the suspension of all bookings in Beijing until April 30, according to a statement from the company today.

"As efforts to control the novel coronavirus outbreak continue, we will comply with additional guidance issued for the industry during this public health emergency," the statement read.

All guests with canceled reservations will be refunded.

Airbnb had announced a Beijing suspension throughout February earlier this week, citing “official guidance that applies to all companies in the short term rental industry."

2:37 a.m. ET, February 12, 2020

Opinion: Why the coronavirus outbreak is an ethical minefield

Li Wenliang, the Chinese whistleblower doctor who died of the coronavirus after trying to warn people about it.
Li Wenliang, the Chinese whistleblower doctor who died of the coronavirus after trying to warn people about it. Li Wenliang

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. The opinions expressed here are hers.

The highly contagious virus is a minefield of ethical, political and moral dilemmas. That it emerged in China, a country ruled by an authoritarian, politically-repressive regime, wrapped the crisis in a uniquely chilling atmosphere.

Governments, public health experts and private firms are trying to figure out how to respond to the crisis, which has unsurprisingly created a multitude of tough decisions.

China's response: China's decision to put nearly 60 million people under lockdown in and around Wuhan is unprecedented and highly controversial. When a local doctor, Li Wenliang, tried to raise the alarm in December, authorities detained him and accused him of spreading rumors. He died of the virus last week.

Then a citizen journalist, Chen Qiushi, providing critical reporting from Wuhan, suddenly disappeared. Another citizen journalist was reportedly arrested on Monday amid reports of a growing number of arrests for criticism of the government's handling of the crisis.

But it's not just China's response that has raised questions. Whenever a contagion becomes so serious that the word "quarantine" becomes part of the discussions, the ethical cost of such prevention casts a shadow on every decision.

Quarantine quandary: Quarantine is a frontal assault on freedom. It literally deprives individuals of their liberties for the sake of the larger community, raising countless difficult questions.

How much power should authorities have over the daily lives of individuals? How much should individuals sacrifice for the sake of the community? How far should the state go in enforcing restrictions? Should people go to jail for violating a confinement to which they are forced because of no fault of their own? What to do when someone becomes ill on a ship holding thousands of healthy passengers? If you decide to keep the passengers on board, who will bring their food? How will they be protected?

Read the full op-ed here.

2:19 a.m. ET, February 12, 2020

Hong Kong building evacuated after fears novel coronavirus could spread through pipes

Medical staff at a housing estate in Hong Kong, after two residents were confirmed to have novel coronavirus on February 11, 2020.
Medical staff at a housing estate in Hong Kong, after two residents were confirmed to have novel coronavirus on February 11, 2020. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images

There's still a lot unknown about how the coronavirus is transmitted from person to person -- but in Hong Kong, there are fears that pipes in buildings may have contributed to the virus' spread.

Two cases were confirmed yesterday -- both living in the same residential building but on different floors -- sparking a partial evacuation order of the building.

A team of experts and engineers entered the building yesterday to ensure the safety of its air pipes, after the city's Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the government would investigate whether the virus was transmitted through the piping system.

"As the pipeline that transfers feces is connected to the air pipe, it is very likely for the virus in the feces to be transmitted through the air fan into the toilet," said Yuen Kwok-yung, chair of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong.

He added that the transmission route was not clear yet, so the partial evacuation was conducted to protect residents. 

Four more residents in the building showed virus symptoms, and are currently receiving treatment in the hospital.

2:00 a.m. ET, February 12, 2020

Confusion and supply shortages in China as people try to resume work

A man monitors traffic in an alley in central Beijing on February 10, 2020.
A man monitors traffic in an alley in central Beijing on February 10, 2020. GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

China is struggling to return to work after the coronavirus outbreak shut down large swaths of the world's second biggest economy for more than two weeks.

Worker shortages, transport disruption, a lack of medical supplies and heavy-handed local officials are all making life difficult for businesses, the Chinese government said yesterday.

"We have also noticed difficulties in fully resuming work," said senior official Cong Liang, listing factors like supply chain disruption, local government restrictions and a shortage of facial masks.

Confusion over resuming work: An extended public holiday ended for much of the country this week, leading some businesses to try to reopen their doors. Others, though, remain closed, and local governments have issued mixed guidance about what companies should be doing.

Global effects: US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell also warned yesterday that the outbreak and its knock-on effects could hurt the global economy.

"We are closely monitoring the emergence of the coronavirus, which could lead to disruptions in China that spill over to the rest of the global economy," Powell said in a report to Congress.

Read the full story here.

1:45 a.m. ET, February 12, 2020

"We will win" the battle against coronavirus, China's leader insists

Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on January 28, 2020.
Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on January 28, 2020. NAOHIKO HATTA/AFP via Getty Images

The brief relaxation of Chinese censorship and rare government transparency seen in January did not last long.

Last week, Chinese state media began promoting positive stories hard, in an apparent effort to shift the narrative from one of crisis to a story of resilience and resurgence.

A selection of top stories from Tuesday's edition of the state-run newspaper China Daily illustrates this approach: "Couple puts duty before reunion dinners"; "More medics rush to join the fight in Wuhan"; "Hunan student honors health workers, including his father, with artworks."

"We will win": Positive stories aside, the government and state media have shifted their tone to project confidence in China's ability to contain the outbreak, even as the death toll continues to rise within the country.

“We must fight this battle with confidence, we will win,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping on state broadcaster CCTV earlier this week.

State-run tabloid Global Times echoed this sentiment in an article yesterday, adding, "The majority of officials working on the frontline of viral prevention needed more support from the public, not finger pointing."

Fact check: The desire to avoid fatalism or mass panic is understandable. But major questions remain unanswered over the Wuhan government and central authorities' response to the crisis.

For weeks it has been clear that the poor handling of the epidemic early on led to it spreading throughout the country, either due to bureaucratic incompetence or an active cover-up by local officials of the type seen during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Read the full analysis here.

3:17 a.m. ET, February 12, 2020

Three coronavirus patients discharged from hospital in South Korea

Medical officials in front of a hospital in Seoul on February 4, 2020.
Medical officials in front of a hospital in Seoul on February 4, 2020. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

Three confirmed coronavirus patients were discharged from hospital on Wednesday, according to the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The three patients have recovered and will continue to be monitored daily after being discharged, KCDC said.

Another patient was also discharged last week after recovering.

The total number of confirmed cases in South Korea is 28, of which 21 are are still hospitalized. 

1:13 a.m. ET, February 12, 2020

A coronavirus outbreak could be devastating for poorer countries

A scientist at the VirPath laboratory in Lyon, France on February 5, 2020.
A scientist at the VirPath laboratory in Lyon, France on February 5, 2020. JEFF PACHOUD/AFP via Getty Images

When the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, it did so over fears that smaller or less-developed countries would struggle to contain the virus.

"Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems and which are ill-prepared to deal with it," said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on January 30.

Why this matters: If self-sustaining outbreaks start occurring in nations with poor healthcare systems, the impact could be devastating.

China is much wealthier than many low-income nations, and has implemented unprecedented measures -- like sealing off cities and building new field hospitals in just over week.

But still, China is struggling to keep the virus under control -- meaning weaker, lower-income countries would have an even harder time dealing with an outbreak, experts say.

Why poorer countries could struggle to cope:

  • Strained healthcare systems: In the past, natural disasters have strained emergency response and health systems in developing countries like the Philippines. Powerful typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and dengue epidemics affected hundreds of thousands in 2019.
  • Rapid industrialization: These countries are quickly urbanizing -- but population booms and mass migration to overcrowded cities with underdeveloped infrastructure could hasten the virus spread.
  • Poverty and disease: Some developing countries are already grappling with poverty and infectious diseases like tuberculosis -- meaning they are even less equipped to deal with a new outbreak.
  • Mistrust of authorities: Community distrust of medical workers in some places like West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo could potentially lead to more deaths and spreading of the virus.

Read the full story here.

12:58 a.m. ET, February 12, 2020

China Railway suspends sale of standing tickets to prevent spread of coronavirus

Passengers on a train at the Shanghai South railway station on February 9, 2020.
Passengers on a train at the Shanghai South railway station on February 9, 2020. NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

China Railway announced today that it is suspending the sale of "standing room only" tickets, in an effort to reduce the number of passengers on trains during the outbreak.

The state-owned railway group said in a statement that it has implemented a range of measures to minimize the chances of transmission -- apart from eliminating standing room, it has also suspended the sale of meals in dining cars and urged passengers to refrain from moving in the train compartment.

The measures will cover inter-city trains and high-speed rail running across the country.

Travel season comes to a close: The announcement comes as millions of Chinese passengers are expected to return from their hometowns in the coming week before the end of the Spring Festival travel period.

12:44 a.m. ET, February 12, 2020

US state of Georgia is monitoring 200 people who recently returned from China for the coronavirus

A sign outside a quarantine site in North Bend, Washington, on February 6, 2020.
A sign outside a quarantine site in North Bend, Washington, on February 6, 2020. JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

About 200 people who recently returned from China to the US state of Georgia are self-monitoring for symptoms of the coronavirus, said the state's Department of Health.

The travelers were in mainland China, outside Hubei province, with no known high-risk exposure. They show no symptoms and are self-isolating at home, according to the department.

How they identify travelers: Every day, Customs and Border Protection sends a list of Georgia travelers who have arrived from China to the state health department, which then reaches out to those travelers individually.

The department makes a plan with these individuals to monitor themselves for symptoms, and gives them instructions on what to do if they get sick.

So far, there are no Georgia travelers who have returned from Wuhan or Hubei province requiring quarantine, or any confirmed cases in Georgia, the department said.

Cases in the US: There have been 13 confirmed cases in the US: seven in California, two in Illinois, and one each in Arizona, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Washington.