February 20 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton and Amy Woodyatt, CNN

Updated 0200 GMT (1000 HKT) February 21, 2020
18 Posts
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2:33 a.m. ET, February 20, 2020

Novel coronavirus cases outside mainland China have passed 1,100

From CNN's Eric Cheung

An employee works in the pop-up Huoyan Laboratory in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Thursday, February 6.
An employee works in the pop-up Huoyan Laboratory in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Thursday, February 6. Chinatopix via AP

The novel coronavirus has spread throughout the world since the first cases were detected in central China in December.

More than 1,100 confirmed cases and 10 deaths from the virus have been recorded in 29 countries and territories outside mainland China:

  • Australia (at least 15 cases)
  • Belgium (at least 1 case)
  • Cambodia (at least 1 case)
  • Canada (at least 8 cases)
  • Egypt (at least 1 case)
  • Finland (at least 1 case)
  • France (at least 12 cases, 1 death)
  • Germany (at least 16 cases)
  • Hong Kong (at least 63 cases, 2 deaths)
  • India (at least 3 cases)
  • Iran (at least 2 cases, 2 deaths)
  • Italy (at least 3 cases)
  • Japan (at least 692 cases, including 624 linked to cruise ship; 3 deaths)
  • Macao (at least 10 cases)
  • Malaysia (at least 22 cases)
  • Nepal (at least 1 case)
  • Philippines (at least 3 cases, 1 death)
  • Russia (at least 2 cases)
  • Singapore (at least 84 cases)
  • South Korea (at least 82 cases)
  • Spain (at least 2 cases)
  • Sri Lanka (at least 1 case)
  • Sweden (at least 1 case)
  • Taiwan (at least 23 cases, 1 case)
  • Thailand (at least 35 cases)
  • United Arab Emirates (at least 9 cases)
  • United Kingdom (at least 9 cases)
  • United States (at least 15 cases)
  • Vietnam (at least 16 cases)

Read more about the patients in each place.

2:13 a.m. ET, February 20, 2020

Novel coronavirus appears to be stabilizing in China amid fears of new outbreak in Japan

From CNN's James Griffiths

Weeks into the novel coronavirus crisis, the outbreak finally appears to be stabilizing in central China, with the number of new cases dropping to a weeks-long low today.

Infections fell from 1,749 confirmed cases on Wednesday to just 394 on Thursday.

But there is some uncertainty of how cases are being diagnosed in Hubei, with the criteria for diagnosing the virus outside of the lab shifting in recent weeks.

Chinese authorities this week switched back to reporting only laboratory confirmed cases from Hubei, after last week allowing clinical diagnoses by doctors -- based on symptoms or more immediate tests -- to be counted towards the province's totals.

Coronavirus cases rise in Asia: Smaller outbreaks than those seen in China are quickly expanding elsewhere, especially onboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan, where two deaths were confirmed Thursday. There have been more than 600 cases diagnosed onboard.

Japan also has 68 confirmed cases of the virus outside of the cruise ship, following a spike in recent days. Other countries are beginning to see a rise too: South Korea has reported a rapid jump in infections, with 31 new cases reported in one day alone.

The global death toll now stands at 2,128, after an additional 108 deaths were reported in Hubei province as of Thursday morning. All but 10 deaths have occurred in mainland China.

Read more here.

1:54 a.m. ET, February 20, 2020

Hubei province accounts for the vast majority of coronavirus cases and deaths in mainland China

Two months after the novel coronavirus outbreak began, there are now more than 74,576 cases across mainland China. The country's death toll stands at 2,118.

By far the vast majority of cases are in Hubei province -- its capital Wuhan is the epicenter of the outbreak.

According to Hubei's health authority, 62,031 cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in the province alone, with 2,029 deaths.

There are just over 12,000 cases of the virus in mainland China outside Hubei and 91 deaths.

Here are the other worst hit provinces as of February 19:

Guangdong: 1,331 cases, 5 deaths

Henan: 1,262 cases, 19 deaths

Zhejiang: 1,173 cases, 0 deaths

Hunan: 1,008 cases, 4 deaths

Anhui: 986 cases, 6 deaths

1:42 a.m. ET, February 20, 2020

Princess Cruises offer "sincere condolences" after two passengers die of coronavirus

From CNN's Sandi Sidhu in Tokyo

The Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku Pier on February 19, in Yokohama, Japan.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku Pier on February 19, in Yokohama, Japan. Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images

Princess Cruises said in a statement to CNN that their hearts went out to the relatives of the two Diamond Princess passengers who died today of the novel coronavirus.

The statement, offering the company's "sincere condolences," was sent after Japan's health ministry confirmed the two fatalities.

There are now more than 600 cases of the coronavirus among former passengers of the cruise ship.

"Our hearts go out to the families and friends and all others who are impacted by these losses," the statement said.
"All of us at Princess Cruises, as well as the crew of the Diamond Princess, offer our sincere condolences."

A spokesperson for the company said that no further information will be released at this time. Passengers who tested negative are still departing the ship in Tokyo today.

1:12 a.m. ET, February 20, 2020

If you're just joining us, here's what you need to know about the coronavirus today

A passenger stands on a cabin balcony of the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan, on Tuesday, February 18.
A passenger stands on a cabin balcony of the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan, on Tuesday, February 18. Jiji Press/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Hubei, the Chinese province at the center of the novel coronavirus outbreak, announced 349 new cases today, the lowest daily number of infections officially recorded by China in weeks.

But the fall appears to be partly due to another change in how China counts a "confirmed case." All official coronavirus cases from today must now be formally diagnosed before they are added to the totals.

The news of a fall in infections in China comes amid a spikes in cases in other Asian countries, including more than 20 members of a church congregation in South Korea.

Here's the latest:

Infections drop in virus epicenter: Confirmed cases in mainland China increased by 394, according to the country's National Health Commission. Only 45 of those new cases were outside of Hubei, according to the NHC's official figures.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China is now 74,576, bringing the global total to 75,674.

"Confirmed case" definition changes: The fall comes as the Chinese government said it would no longer count "clinically confirmed" cases among the official total infections. It was a reversal from a decision made a week ago to include patients who had tested negative for the virus but showed symptoms.

Death toll rises: The number of people killed by the virus continues to rise, with 114 more deaths announced in mainland China today. In total, the global death toll is now 2,128.

Diamond Princess deaths: Two passengers from the formerly quarantined cruise ship have died of the coronavirus, Japan's health ministry announced today.

Both passengers were in their 80s and had been in hospital in Japan, but no further information is known about them at this stage. A total of 624 cases of the coronavirus have been found onboard the ship.

Passengers depart cruise ship: Large numbers of passengers who have tested negative for the virus are due to leave the Diamond Princess today after two weeks in quarantine on board. Cruise goers from Canada and Israel will be among those allowed off Thursday.

Japan's health ministry has given up to 500 passengers permission to leave, a Princess Cruises spokesperson told CNN.

South Korea infections jump: There are now 82 cases of the deadly coronavirus in South Korea, the government reported today, after a jump of 31 additional cases overnight. Of the new cases, 23 went to the same church as a previously confirmed patient and health officials now plan to test the entire congregation for the virus.

Scientists slam conspiracy theories: A group of scientists from around the world have come together to denounce rumors that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory, rather than naturally in animals.

"(We) overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens," 27 study authors said in a statement published Wednesday in medical journal The Lancet.

12:53 a.m. ET, February 20, 2020

Coronavirus patients can have similar “viral load” whether or not they show symptoms

From CNN Health’s Jacqueline Howard

A laboratory technician holds up samples of the coronavirus at a laboratory in Hengyang in China's central Henan province on Wednesday, February 19.
A laboratory technician holds up samples of the coronavirus at a laboratory in Hengyang in China's central Henan province on Wednesday, February 19. Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Researchers in China are saying that people with the novel coronavirus may have the same viral load -- or amount of virus in their body -- whether or not they are actually showing symptoms of illness.

In a letter published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers describe how they monitored viral loads of the virus in samples taken from the nose and throat of 18 patients: nine men and nine women ranging in age from 26 to 76 in Zhuhai, in China’s Guangdong province. 

Their analysis showed that the 17 patients with symptoms had a similar viral load in tests to the one patient who had no symptoms. 

"(This) suggests the transmission potential of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic patients,” the researchers wrote in the letter.

“These findings are in concordance with reports that transmission may occur early in the course of infection."

More infectious than SARS?: It comes as the largest and most comprehensive study yet of the novel coronavirus found it is highly contagious, more so than severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Carried out by a group of experts at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology on Monday, the study looked at more than 72,000 confirmed and suspected cases of the coronavirus.

12:29 a.m. ET, February 20, 2020

Macao casinos reopen with new health regulations

From CNN's Alex Lin and Isaac Yee in Hong Kong

The main entrance of Casino Lisboa closes on February 5, in Macao, China.
The main entrance of Casino Lisboa closes on February 5, in Macao, China. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Officials in Macao have allowed 29 casinos to reopen following a two-week closure that was implemented to try and stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Chinese gambling enclave.

In a news release issued on Wednesday, the government said that 29 casinos would resume operations tonight.

However it added that the reopened casinos would be operating at 30% capacity and that casinos would have to follow new guidelines. 

Those include:

  • Mandating all casino employees wear a mask or keep a distance of "one meter apart from others, especially when talking"
  • Not allowing individuals with "fevers or acute coughs" inside the casinos

According to the statement, the Macao Health Bureau will continue to closely monitor the health situation of casinos.

Losing streak: Gambling is the lifeblood of Macao, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory that depends on millions of visitors from mainland China. But the recent global health emergency has scared away tourists, and threatened the business model at the heart of Macao's economy.

Wynn Resorts, which employs 12,200 people in Macao, said earlier this month that the company was losing more than $2.6 million a day following the decision to shut down.

12:26 a.m. ET, February 20, 2020

Beijing has expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters over a coronavirus opinion piece

From CNN's Steven Jiang and Brian Stelter

A controversial opinion piece criticizing China's response to the coronavirus led to the official expulsion of three journalists from the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

At a news briefing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that the Wall Street Journal had refused to apologize over the article, entitled "China is the real sick man of Asia."

It is the largest expulsion of foreign journalists from the country since 1989.

"The editors used such a racially discriminatory title, triggering indignation and condemnation among the Chinese people and the international community," Geng said.

Both the Wall Street Journal and the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China strongly objected to the move, with the FCC calling it an "unprecedented form of retaliation."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also denounced the expulsion. "Mature, responsible countries understand that a free press reports facts and expresses opinions. The correct response is to present counter arguments, not restrict speech," Pompeo said.

The expulsion came less than a day after US officials announced they would be treating five major Chinese state-run media companies as effective extensions of the Chinese government.

A senior State Department official said Tuesday that Xinhua, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily and People's Daily will be designated as "foreign missions," effective immediately.

Read more here.

11:51 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Drop in new infections as China changes definition of "confirmed case" again

From CNN's Steven Jiang in Beijing

Medical workers move a person who died from the novel coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Sunday, February 16.
Medical workers move a person who died from the novel coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Sunday, February 16. Chinatopix via AP

The drop in new novel coronavirus infections out of mainland China was sharp today, falling from 1,749 confirmed cases on Wednesday to just 394 Thursday.

This now appears to be partly due to a change in what is counted as a "confirmed case."

About a week ago, Hubei province began counting "clinically diagnosed patients" in their case numbers -- those patients who showed symptoms, even if they tested negative. It resulted in a huge spike of confirmed cases in the province, which is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

However, according to the latest government guidelines, "clinically diagnosed patients" will no longer be counted. A lab based diagnosis will now be required for a case to be counted as "confirmed." All other cases will be categorized as "suspected cases."

Comments carried in Chinese state media have said that the decision to include clinically diagnosed patients was intended to help clear a backlog of cases in Hubei.

Diagnosis delays: For weeks, Hubei citizens with symptoms had expressed frustration that they were not able to get treatment due to a delay in diagnosis.

Those delays could be significant, with some reports of patients waiting up to a week for their results, as the testing kits were sent from Hubei to a lab in Beijing.

While there have been efforts to speed up the process, scientific testing of samples is difficult and time consuming.