February 24 coronavirus news

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4:53 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

China delays major annual political gathering

Cna is delaying the annual gathering of nearly 3,000 national legislators in Beijing, according to state media.

The National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee voted today to delay the plenary session, which was due to open March 5. No new date has been announced.

Why this is significant: The National People’s Congress (NPC) is the country’s rubber-stamp parliament. The annual plenary session, one of the biggest political events each year, has not been delayed or suspended since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s.

It went ahead as scheduled in 2003 amid the SARS epidemic, which originated in China and hit the country hard. SARS eventually spread across the world to infect more than 8,000 people, killing at least 774.

4:49 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Wuhan officials revoke earlier announcement on easing travel restrictions

Wan officials have walked back an announcement from earlier today, which claimed travel restrictions were easing in the Chinese city where the outbreak began.

The earlier announcement has been ruled “invalid,” according to a post on social platform Weibo by the city’s government.

The initial announcement was “issued by the traffic prevention and control team in a circumstance that was not discussed with the command office and was not agreed by major leadership,” said the Weibo post.

It added that the city is “resolutely” implementing the instructions by Chinese President Xi Jinping to prevent the virus spreading further, and that the “relevant personnel” had been “criticized."

Some context: Wuhan has been under lockdown for over a month now, with no movement in or out. Earlier, the now-invalid announcement had suggested some healthy citizens would gradually be allowed to exit and Wuhan residents elsewhere in China could apply to return.

4:06 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Six Chinese provinces lower coronavirus emergency response level

A Chinese laboratory technician in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on February 12.
A Chinese laboratory technician in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on February 12. STR/AFP via Getty Images

Six Chinese provinces have lowered their coronavirus emergency response levels, according to local health commissions.

Liaoning, a province in northeastern China that borders North Korea, was the first to downgrade the coronavirus emergency response level from the highest level -- Level 1 -- to Level 3 on Saturday, according to a statement by the provincial government.

Shanxi, Guangdong, Yunnan, Gansu, and Guizhou provinces also downgraded their levels on Sunday and Monday. All previously had the highest response levels; Shanxi and Guangdong lowered the response to Level 2, while Yunnan, Guizhou, and Gansu provinces downgraded the response to Level 3.

What this means: China has a four-tier emergency response system for natural disasters, accidents, public health emergencies, and social security incidents. The highest level mandates the State Council to lead the coordination work in response to the emergency.

Lowering the emergency response levels will give local governments more autonomy and flexibility in implementing epidemic control efforts and resuming economic activities.

3:57 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Afghanistan announces first confirmed case

A health services staff member in an isolation ward at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on February 2.
A health services staff member in an isolation ward at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on February 2. Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

Afghanistan has confirmed its first case of the coronavirus, in the country's Herat province, the Minister of Public Health Ferozuddin Feroz said today.

Three suspected cases were identified yesterday. They lived in Herat and had recently returned from Iran, where there are 43 confirmed cases.

“After testing their blood we came to know that one of them were coronavirus positive. Those three suspected had recently returned from Qom city of Iran,” said Feroz today.

Feroz declared an emergency in Herat, calling for restrictions on air and ground transport to and from the province. 

3:45 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Kuwait confirms 3 coronavirus cases

Three people tested positive for coronavirus in Kuwait, after returning from the Iranian city of Mashhad, the country's health ministry said today.

The trio includes a 61-year-old Saudi citizen and a 53-year-old Kuwaiti national. The third person's nationality was undisclosed.

Kuwait evacuated 800 citizens from Iran on Sunday citing the coronavirus outbreak there, according to state news agency KUNA.

“(All of them) showed no symptoms of the disease,” the health minister Abdullah Al-Sanad said, KUNA reported.

3:32 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

More than 230 new cases were confirmed in South Korea today, raising national total to 833

Workers spray disinfectant at a market in Seoul on Monday.
Workers spray disinfectant at a market in Seoul on Monday. Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced 231 new cases today, bringing the country’s total to 833 in a massive jump.

161 cases were announced this morning, and another 70 in the afternoon.

Among the 70 cases, 41 are from the city of Daegu, and 12 are from North Gyeongsang Province -- two places where the outbreak has been concentrated. The other cases are spread out across Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, Ulsan, and Gyeonggi Province.

The total number of deaths related to the coronavirus is now at seven, with the latest death happening yesterday.

About half of all cases nationwide are linked to a religious group in the south of the country.

3:30 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Two Japanese health workers who went on board the Princess Diamond cruise ship have coronavirus

Two more Japanese government health workers who went on the Princess Diamond during its 14-day quarantine have tested positive for novel coronavirus.

The Ministry of Health confirmed that a quarantine officer in his 50s and an administrative staffer in his 40s were hospitalized after they developed fevers. 

In total, six of the ministry’s staffers have tested positive for the virus after working aboard the ship.

2:50 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Qatar Airways to quarantine passengers arriving from Iran and South Korea

Qatar Airways announced today it would ask all travelers arriving in Doha from Iran and South Korea to isolate themselves at home or in a quarantine facility for 14 days.

"Passengers arriving from those countries who are showing symptoms will be transferred to the Communicable Disease Centre at the Hamad Medical Corporation," said the airline in a statement. "We thank our passengers for their cooperation in this matter."

Spike in cases: This move comes after both countries reported a spike in cases over the weekend. Iran now has 43 cases and eight deaths, while South Korea has 763 cases and seven deaths.

2:24 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

How the coronavirus went global

The novel coronavirus began in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei province. Now, it's reached more than 30 other countries and territories, and is spreading in Europe and the Middle East. Take a look at how we got here:

  • December 8: First patient develops symptoms of coronavirus in Wuhan.
  • December 31: Earliest cases of virus reported to World Health Organization (WHO).
  • January 1: Seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have originated, is closed for disinfection.
  • January 7: Chinese authorities confirm they have identified the virus as a novel coronavirus.
  • January 9: First person dies of the virus, though his death wasn't announced until January 11.
  • January 13: Thailand reports their first case -- a Chinese national who had arrived from Wuhan.
  • January 16: Japan confirms its first case.
  • January 21: The US confirms its first case.
  • January 23: Wuhan is placed on lockdown and Lunar New Year celebrations are canceled in major Chinese cities. Around 60 million people are affected by lockdowns and travel restrictions in other parts of China. WHO says virus is not yet a public health emergency of international concern
  • January 28: Death toll tops 100. The number of confirmed cases in mainland China overtakes the deadly 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak.
  • January 30: WHO declares a public health emergency of international concern.
  • February 2: A Chinese man dies in the Philippines -- the first coronavirus death outside China.
  • February 4: The Diamond Princess cruise ship is docked under quarantine in Japan's Yokohama Bay with more than 3,700 people on board.
  • February 6: Death toll tops 500 globally.
  • February 7: Chinese whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, who was targeted by Wuhan police, dies of the coronavirus. Chinese social media is flooded with grief, anger, and calls for freedom of speech.
  • February 8: The US Embassy in Beijing confirms that a US national died in Wuhan on February 6, marking the first confirmed death of a non-Chinese national.
  • February 11: The death toll tops 1,000 globally. The WHO names the coronavirus Covid-19.
  • February 15: The first coronavirus death in Europe is confirmed.
  • February 17: American passengers on the Diamond Princess are evacuated out of Japan.
  • February 23: Cases in South Korea surged past 600 after several hundred new infections were reported in 48 hours, with more than half the cases linked to a branch of a religious group. Italy also sees a spike -- cases rise from 3 to 152 over the same weekend.