BEIJING (AP) – The Chinese government on Saturday reported 143 deaths from COVID-19 and a marked decrease in the number of new cases, while presenting additional measures to prevent contagion, which coincided with the reopening of many businesses following the intense controls that they paralyzed much of the country’s economy.
On the other hand, in France, the Ministry of Health confirmed the first death in Europe of a patient due to the new coronavirus: a Chinese tourist from the province of Hubei, where the disease originated in December.RELATED
Meanwhile, the United States was preparing to repatriate American passengers aboard a quarantined cruise ship in Japan.
In Munich, the head of the World Health Organization urged governments to intensify their efforts to prepare for the virus, saying that “it is impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take.”
The director general of the UN health agency, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Saturday during a meeting of senior international foreign and security policy officials that WHO is satisfied that there has not yet been a widespread transmission outside of China and that “the steps that China has taken to contain the outbreak at its source seem to have gained time for everyone, but we don’t know how much time.”
However, he said the agency is “concerned about the continued increase in the number of cases in China” and about reports on the number of health workers who have been infected or have died.
“We are concerned about the lack of urgency to finance the response of the international community,” Tedros said during the Munich Security Conference.
The number of new infections in China was 2,641 in 24 hours, from noon on Friday, bringing the total number of cases to 66,492. The total number of deaths in the continental territory amounted to 1,523 people.
Reports of new cases dropped from 5,090 in the previous 24 hours after authorities changed the basis for patient counts. Medical experts pointed out that this will make it difficult to assess the effectiveness of the controls against contagion that have cut access to some large cities and closed factories and offices.
The number of new cases has fluctuated in the last two weeks. This fueled optimism that the virus outbreak, which was detected in December, could be under control and warnings that those hopes were premature.
The Chinese government announced measures to prevent the transmission of the virus while millions of workers take planes, trains and buses to return to the big cities after the extension of the Lunar New Year holiday.
Holidays were extended to prevent workers from going to their positions in factories and offices, but the authorities ordered their reopening in the face of increased economic losses.
Most of the accesses to Wuhan, the city in the center of the country that is at the epicenter of the outbreak, were cut on January 23 and the controls were then applied to a city with a total population of 60 million people. Restaurants, cinemas and other businesses closed across the country to avoid crowds.
According to the new measures, those who return to Beijing will have to isolate themselves in their homes for 14 days, according to the news published by state media on Friday night. Those who break the mandate will face legal consequences, but which ones are not clarified.
A health official called on travelers to review and report others who suffer from symptoms.
Also on Saturday, France announced the first death from the coronavirus in Europe. The patient, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist from Hubei province, suffered COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. He arrived in France on January 16 and was hospitalized on 25 under strict isolation measures.
For its part, the US embassy in Japan said Washington will repatriate the 380 Americans who are quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked at Yokohama, a port city southwest of Tokyo. At the moment, 285 cruise passengers tested positive after confirmation of 67 new cases on Saturday.
The returnees will be transferred to the Travis Base of the Air Force in California and some will go to Lackland in Texas, the embassy said. Upon arrival on US soil, everyone will have to spend another two more weeks in quarantine, he added.
COVID-19 disease, derived from this new form of coronavirus, has spread to 24 countries. Egypt reported its first case on Friday, the first on the African continent.
Saturday is the second day that the number of new cases declined since an increase on Thursday, when the province of Hubei, the most affected, began to include clinical diagnoses in its official count. Using this broader classification, that province of central China reported 15,152 cases, including 13,332 who were diagnosed using medical evaluations and pulmonary imaging, unlike the previous standard of laboratory tests.
The new method was adopted to facilitate faster treatment for people suspected of being infected, Hubei health authorities said.
Confusion arose around a discrepancy of more than 1,000 cases between Thursday’s report and Friday’s report. My Feng, spokesman for the National Health Commission, said Friday that the “decline” in the figures is due to an adjustment made to Hubei’s count after finding that some cases had been recorded twice.
The Associated Press journalists Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia; Geir Moulson in Berlin and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this office.