January 24 coronavirus news

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12:42 a.m. ET, January 24, 2020

Chinese authorities are asking the public for information about any alleged cover-ups related to the Wuhan virus

Central government authorities in China are asking people for information about any underreporting or concealment of the facts around the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, according to state broadcaster CGTN.

There have been numerous allegations that officials in Wuhan downplayed the virus in the initial weeks following its discovery.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, which originated in the southern province of Guangdong, local officials there and elsewhere in China actively covered up the extent and danger of that virus.

According to CGTN, China's State Council said it is "welcoming information from citizens about potential issues with the reporting of the new coronavirus."

"This includes cover-ups, attempts to play down the numbers or delayed and incomplete reporting of the outbreak. All information and leads will be investigated, and any issues will be dealt with according to laws and regulations."
12:13 a.m. ET, January 24, 2020

Virus is just the latest challenge for China's Xi

With the Wuhan coronavirus spreading across the country, killing at least 26 people so far, China is now facing a major test of just how much it has changed since 2003, both in terms of the healthcare system's ability to react to a new deadly pathogen -- and crucially, how the central government handles the developing crisis. 

Speaking this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered "all-out efforts" to contain the virus' spread and treat those affected. His intervention seemed to carry with it a clear message: the mistakes of SARS will not be repeated. 

Wuhan is only the latest crisis to face Xi since he secured personal control of the Communist Party, joining the US-China trade war, ongoing anti-government unrest in Hong Kong, and the recent Taiwan election, in which Tsai Ing-wen, much loathed by Beijing, handily won reelection against a more pro-China candidate

More than any leader since Mao Zedong, Xi has centralized power around himself. He is the state, and while this gives him immense control, it also means that every crisis is a test of his leadership -- Wuhan perhaps most of all, as the country looks to their leader for reassurance and confidence.

Read more here

11:57 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

Hubei raises public health emergency response to highest level

Authorities in central China's Hubei province have lifted the public health emergency response to Level 1, the highest level, according to state broadcaster CGTN.

Three cities in the province, including the capital Wuhan, center of the coronavirus outbreak, have been placed under travel restrictions in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

Hospitals in Wuhan are struggling to handle the intake of patients. A new, 1,000-bed hospital is being built on the outskirts of the city, to be completed by February 3. In the meantime, hospitals have asked for donations of medical supplies, including masks, medical gloves and protective suits, CGTN reported.

11:54 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

How does the Wuhan virus compare to regular winter flu outbreaks?

With global attention on the Wuhan coronavirus and its spread around China and other countries, it's important to put it in the context of other deadly infections, including seasonal influenza, which claims the lives of thousands of people every year.

According to a September 2019 study by Chinese scientists in The Lancet, there are an average of around 88,100 influenza-related deaths every year in China, with a mortality rate of between 1.6% and 2.6%. The majority of those who died as a result of the flu were aged over 60, the report said.

While the true extent of the new coronavirus is unclear, it appears to be more deadly than seasonal influenza. Of the 846 confirmed cases, there have been 26 deaths, a mortality rate of 3%.

However, that is far less deadly than related coronaviruses SARS and MERS. SARS has a mortality rate of around 10%, while MERS has killed 34% of those infected with that virus.

11:17 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

An Indian nurse in Saudi Arabia thought to have the Wuhan virus actually has MERS

An Indian nurse being treated at a hospital in Saudi Arabia has Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), not the Wuhan coronavirus, according to the Consul General of India in Jeddah.

On Thursday, India’s foreign office reported that the nurse had the Wuhan coronavirus.

However, the Consulate tweeted on Friday that the nurse "is suffering from MERS-CoV (and) not 2019-NCoV (Wuhan). We request everyone to refrain from sharing incorrect info."

MERS is in the same family of coronaviruses as the infection detected in Wuhan.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of November 2019, a total of 2,494 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS have been reported globally.

Of those, 858 patients died as a result of the disease, a fatality rate of 34.4%. The vast majority of the cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia.

10:53 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

Video shows new hospital under construction in Wuhan

Construction has begun on a new, 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan dedicated to treating the new coronavirus. According to the state-run People's Daily, the hospital will be ready by February 3.

Similar efforts were put in place in 2003 during the SARS crisis, with a new hospital built in Beijing in less than a week.

10:45 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

Macao shuts schools amid Wuhan virus scare

Schools in the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Macao will not return after the Lunar New Year break in an attempt to stop the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Two confirmed cases of the virus have been diagnosed so far in the Macao Special Administrative Region.

On Friday, the city's Education and Youth Bureau (DSEJ) posted a statement online confirming that schools will not resume until February 10.

"In response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, the DSEJ has announced that all non-tertiary education schools in Macao will resume classes on or after 10th February, 2020 (Monday) after the (Lunar) New Year holiday," the statement read. 
"Private tutorial centers and continuing education institutions must also postpone their resumption date to 10th February (Monday) or after. During this period, the DSEJ will continue to closely monitor the development of the epidemic situation and make corresponding arrangements in due course."
10:37 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

Hong Kong is running out of face masks as people bulk buy

Many pharmacies and other shops in Hong Kong are running low on face masks as residents of the city -- where memories of the 2003 SARS crisis are still very fresh -- bulk buy them ahead of the Lunar New Year break.

Pedestrians wear face masks as they walk through a crosswalk in Causeway Bay on January 23, 2020 in Hong Kong.
Pedestrians wear face masks as they walk through a crosswalk in Causeway Bay on January 23, 2020 in Hong Kong. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

According to public broadcaster RTHK, multiple stores have already run out, raising fears that they will not be able to restock before the middle of next week, due to the public holiday, which runs through until Wednesday in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's Department of Health and the Hospital Authority said in a statement that there was a three-month stockpile sufficient to cover medical workers and patients. The city's Food and Health Bureau is liaising with suppliers at the wholesale level to "ascertain scope for expediting the delivery of and stepping up local supplies."

The city's Consumer Council urged traders not to raise prices of face masks to "outrageous levels" as demand spikes. In mainland China, online retailer Taobao has banned stores from hiking prices.

Pharmacies in Macao have reportedly begun restricting the sale of face masks to 10 per customer.

10:17 p.m. ET, January 23, 2020

China is building a dedicated Wuhan pneumonia hospital in just 6 days: report

Authorities in China are reportedly planning to build a dedicated pneumonia hospital in Wuhan to help treat the hundreds of people affected by the deadly coronavirus in that city.

According to the Beijing News, a state-backed newspaper, the hospital will be a prefabricated, box-type model that can be built in six days. A design plan will be released on Friday, the paper said, with construction due to begin soon afterward in Wuhan's southwestern Caidian District.

A military official explains the surveillance system of a newly built 1,000 bed SARS hospital to journalists on May 7, 2003 in Xiaotangshan, near Beijing, China.
A military official explains the surveillance system of a newly built 1,000 bed SARS hospital to journalists on May 7, 2003 in Xiaotangshan, near Beijing, China. Getty Images

During the 2003 SARS crisis, Xiaotangshan Hospital was constructed in six days and seven nights in Beijing. Dedicated to tackling that virus, it was used to treat almost 700 SARS patients, only eight of whom died, a mortality rate of 1.18%, far below the national average.