Here are the latest developments:
● France announced a patient with coronavirus had died, marking the first death outside of Asia.
● After protracted negotiations, a team of experts from the World Health Organization, including Americans, is due to arrive in Beijing this weekend.
● All residents returning to Beijing are now required to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days upon arrival.
● China’s National Health Commission reported 2, 523 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday and 283 deaths. The total number of confirmed cases is now 90, and the death toll on the Chinese mainland stands at 1, 523.
● The vast majority of cases are in Hubei province, where the virus outbreak began in the capital of Wuhan. A total of 90, 492 People in Hubei have been diagnosed with the pneumonia-like illness, and 1, have died.
BEIJING – Chinese authorities have implemented new draconian quarantine rules in cities across the country, including in the capital of Beijing, in a sign that existing measures to contain the coronavirus sweeping the country have been deemed insufficient.
This came as countries around the world continued to grapple with the pneumonia-like virus: France announced a patient had died from the illness, marking the first death outside Asia, while American passengers prepared to be evacuated from a virus-stricken cruise ship in Japan.
In Japan, the US government Saturday told passengers onboard the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise liner moored off the Japanese port of Yokohama that they will be evacuated from the ship.
They will have to go into a – day quarantine once back in the United States, the US Embassy in Tokyo wrote in an email to Americans on the ship. This is consistent with the isolation of Americans evacuated from Wuhan. The virus has a maximum incubation period of 14 days.
The Diamond Princess had been declared a quarantine zone on Feb. 5, so passengers had expected to be able to return home on Feb. .
But as more tests were carried out on passengers and crew, it became clear that a high percentage had the virus, and experts warned there was a risk it could still be spreading on board the ship.
So far, 283 passengers and crew on board the ship have tested positive for the virus, out of 823 people who have been assessed. There were 2, 728 passengers and 1, 54 crew on the ship when it was placed in quarantine, but those found to have the virus have gradually been evacuated to hospitals around Japan.
In China, a team of experts from the World Health Organization is finally due to arrive this weekend, after prolonged negotiations with the Chinese government. They will travel to Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, and other badly-affected cities to see the efforts underway to contain the virus and treat the patients, China’s National Health Commission said Saturday.
China’s leaders – on the back foot after initially trying to suppress or play down the severity of the virus and discovering that belated efforts to contain it were not working – are trying to show they are on top of the epidemic, even as the number of infections continues to climb.
They are also sharply worried about the impact on the economy, which was already undergoing a structural slowdown.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping acknowledged that the “black swan” of the coronavirus epidemic would make it difficult for the government to achieve its economic and social development goals for the year.
But he ordered Communist Party cadres to “resolutely win the blockade war ”against the coronavirus and“ keep the economy running smoothly and the society harmonious and stable, ”according to a front-page article Saturday morning in the People’s Daily, the party newspaper.
As part of the new efforts, all residents returning to Beijing , a city of some million people, are now required to stay at home “or submit to group observation” for days, and those who refuse “will be held accountable under law,” according to a notice issued late Friday night by Beijing’s virus prevention working group.
Analysts saw this as a sign that the virus, which 406 people in Beijing have contracted, is still spreading, but also that the Communist Party rulers are growing nervous about political meetings due to be held in the first week of March. The “Two Sessions” attract thousands of party members from around the country to Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
Hundreds of millions of people were on the move in January in the week leading up to the Lunar New Year holiday, as the virus raged undetected, and China’s transport ministry said some 523 million trips had been made since Jan. , after the first lockdowns began, as people returned from holidays in their hometowns.
As part of the new regulations, residential compounds in the capital gave residents papers to sign, pledging to register when they arrive back in Beijing and voluntarily quarantine themselves.
“I promise that I will not obstruct the normal diagnosis and treatment work of medical institutions and medical staff, not participate in various kinds of illegal criminal activities such as attacking medical staff, making trouble in hospitals, ”one compound’s paperwork read.
Most residents in Chinese cities live in compounds with managers that oversee their operations, often with police-like vigor.
In Wuhan, at the epicenter of the outbreak, authorities moved to seal all residential compounds. The million residents of Wuhan were under a kind of emergency law that stipulated only one member of each household could go out, and only once every three days, to buy groceries and other supplies.
Now, only people who are seeking medical treatment or working on epidemic prevention and control will be allowed to leave residential complexes.
Other cities in Hubei province – including Huanggang, Xiaogan and Honghu, with a combined population million) – have instituted “wartime measures” for the next 14 days, banning residents from leaving their homes unless they are directly involved in fighting the epidemic. Elsewhere in the province, Jingmen city banned people and vehicles from other places from entering the city from Saturday morning.
In Shanghai, population million, current regulations stipulate only that people returning from areas “hit hard by the epidemic” were required to quarantine themselves. But the megacity is trying to dissuade those who don’t come from or work in the city from entering.
Every person arriving in Shanghai’s airports and train stations must have their temperature checked and registered against their name.
Meanwhile in Paris, French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said Saturday that an 80 – year-old man from Hubei province had succumbed to the illness, becoming the coronavirus patient to die outside Asia. He had been hospitalized at the Bichat-Claude Bernard Hospital in Paris, along with his daughter, since Jan. .
His daughter is expected to be discharged soon.
France has seen the largest number of coronavirus cases in Europe to date. But of the 11 cases confirmed in France, four patients have fully recovered and six remain hospitalized without life-threatening symptoms.
On the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the news of an additional quarantine period came as a body blow to some of the Americans, who had been repeatedly told by their government they would not have to serve out an additional quarantine period on their return home.
“It’s completely devastating,” said Karey Sells, 54, from St. George, Utah. “If they wanted to keep us under quarantine for an additional period, they should have picked us up days ago. They should have done their job. ”
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said it was grateful to the cruise line and the Japanese government “for working diligently to contain and control the spread of the illness.”
“However, to fulfill our government responsibilities to US citizens under our rules and practices, as well as to reduce the burden on the Japanese health care system, the U.S. government recommends, out of an abundance of caution, that U.S. citizens disembark and return to the United States for further monitoring, ”it said in the email.
It was a decision some passengers said should have been taken much earlier.
“Why did they test everybody (earlier) and it would have been been?” asked Melanie Haering, 66, from Tooele, Utah, echoing a question Many people have asked right from the beginning.
Denyer reported from Yokohama, Japan. Liu Yang in Beijing and James McAuley in Paris contributed to this report.