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Coronavirus Live Updates: Deaths in China Surpass Toll From SARS

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ImageLining up this weekend to get tickets for free masks and sanitizer outside a Beijing pharmacy.
Credit…Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The coronavirus death toll in China has risen to 908, surpassing the toll from the SARS epidemic of 2002-3, according to official data.

The number of confirmed infections in the country rose to 40,171, China’s National Health Commission said Monday. Ninety-seven deaths and 3,062 new cases were recorded in the preceding 24 hours, most of them in Hubei Province, the heart of the outbreak. A United States citizen died from the coronavirus in Wuhan, the provincial capital, American officials said on Saturday.

The SARS epidemic, which also began in China, killed 774 people worldwide. There have been only two confirmed deaths from the new coronavirus outside mainland China: one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

Many doctors believe that deaths and infections from the current epidemic are undercounted in China because testing facilities are under severe strain.

The number of new cases has stabilized in recent days, but World Health Organization officials cautioned against reading too much into those figures, saying that Wuhan and Hubei were in the midst of a “very intense outbreak.”

“It’s very, very early to make any predictions,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the W.H.O.’s health emergencies program.

The measures put in place in Hubei appear to be “paying off,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director general, but he warned that outbreaks like these are unpredictable. “We have to understand it with caution because it can show stability for a few days and then they can shoot up,” he said. “I’ve said it many times: It’s slow now, but it may accelerate.”

Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, said Sunday that experts from the World Health Organization would be allowed into China “very soon” to assist with the coronavirus outbreak, and the agency’s chief announced hours later that an advance team was on its way.

D.r Tedros, the W.H.O.’s director general, posted a message on Twitter from Geneva saying that he had “just been at the airport seeing off members of an advance team” of experts led by Dr. Bruce Aylward.

Dr. Aylward, a W.H.O. assistant director general, was the organization’s special representative for the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

Offers of assistance from the W.H.O. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been ignored for weeks, the Times reported Friday, but the moves on Sunday appeared to signal that Beijing would at least partly reverse course.

“We are coordinating with the World Health Organization,” Mr. Cui said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I’m sure that they will be going to China very soon.”

He declined to say if a team of experts from the C.D.C would also be allowed into China, suggesting instead that American experts could be admitted as part of the W.H.O. or as individuals.

“American experts are on the list recommended by the W.H.O.,” Mr. Cui said. “Even beyond that, some American experts have come to China already on their own individual basis.”

Nine members of a Hong Kong family were found to be infected with the new coronavirus after sharing a hot pot meal in late January, officials said on Sunday. Two members of the family — a 24-year-old man and his 91-year-old grandmother — were confirmed first, followed by the man’s parents, aunts and cousins.

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  • What do you need to know? Start here.

    Updated Feb. 5, 2020

    • Where has the virus spread?
      You can track its movementwith this map.
    • How is the United States being affected?
      There have been at least a dozen cases. American citizens and permanent residents who fly to the United States from China are now subject to a two-week quarantine.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      Several countries, including the United States, have discouraged travel to China, and several airlines have canceled flights.Many travelers have been left in limbo while looking to change or cancel bookings.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands is the most important thing you can do.

Officials said that the family was part of a gathering of 19 who had shared a hot pot meal, in which diners add meat and vegetables to a communal vat of boiling broth. Chuang Shuk-kwan, a health official, said on Sunday that most of those who had attended had shown either no symptoms, or minor ones not immediately distinguishable from the flu. The 24-year-old had consulted a private doctor several times before being admitted to a hospital with a fever that would not subside.

Two relatives at the meal on Jan. 26 had traveled from the neighboring mainland province of Guangdong, Hong Kong health officials said. The nine cases, who were being isolated at two hospitals, were among 10 new cases reported in Hong Kong on Sunday, bringing the territory’s total to 36.

All 3,600 people aboard a cruise ship that had been held for four days in Hong Kong disembarked on Sunday after its crew members tested negative for the coronavirus, health officials said.

The ship, the World Dream, had been grounded since Wednesday because eight people from mainland China who were on a previous journey were found to be infected. Everyone was cleared to leave after no cases were found among the 1,800 crew members.

Most passengers had kept to their rooms during the holding period, watching movies or playing mahjong. Some ventured outside on balconies, waving to loved ones or shouting messages to reporters on the dock below.

“I felt really bored staying in my room, but we know that the quarantine is to keep everyone else in the city safe,” Charlotte Chan, a sales executive, said on Sunday after she disembarked wearing two layers of masks.

Britain confirmed a new coronavirus case on Sunday, bringing the total cases in the country to four. The infected person was a “known contact of a previously confirmed U.K. case,” the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said in a statement.

The announcement came just hours after a flight from Wuhan carrying 200 Britons and European citizens arrived in Britain. About 150 of the passengers were taken to a center in Milton Keynes, England, to be quarantined for 14 days. The authorities in Spain said on Sunday that the country had confirmed its second coronavirus case: a British man who lives on the island of Majorca with his family.

The man had reported to the hospital on Friday where his wife and children later tested negative for the virus, according to Spain’s national center for microbiology.

The infected man, who has been quarantined, had been in contact with a person who tested positive for the virus in France, Spanish officials said. The authorities in Majorca are now investigating whether the infected man came into contact with other people on the island before going to the hospital.

The coronavirus continues to ripple through China’s huge network of auto and parts factories.

The longer the China supply chain remains paralyzed, the greater the chance that production in Asia, Europe and the United States could grind to a halt because of shortages of components. A lot is at stake in getting the factories humming again: The auto industry employs eight million people worldwide.

The German carmaker Daimler said Sunday that it was sticking with plans to begin reopening its Chinese factories on Monday. Its auto production in China is centered around Beijing.

Volkswagen will reopen only its Shanghai plant on Monday. Following the lead of BMW, PSA, Toyota and others, it said Saturday that production at most of its plants in China would not resume until Feb. 17 because of “challenges due to the nationwide restarting of supply chains as well as limited travel options for our production employees.”

Even a relatively brief interruption in the flow of parts and materials could have far-reaching effects.

The shutdowns at Chinese factories have hit automakers from several angles. The virus is already causing sales losses in China, by far the world’s largest car market. If they are forced to shut down factories outside of China because of parts shortages, as Hyundai has already done in South Korea, they could also lose sales in other regions.

Six more people on a cruise ship that has been quarantined for nearly a week in Yokohama, Japan, have tested positive for the coronavirus, passengers were told on Sunday. Five of them were crew members.

About 3,700 people on the ship, the Diamond Princess, have been quarantined since last Monday, after it was learned that a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan. 25 had been infected.

The Japanese health authorities have tested hundreds of people on the ship. The six new cases, which were confirmed by the Health Ministry on Sunday, bring the total to 70.

The announcement to passengers, a recording of which was posted online, said that the six people were being taken off the ship and that eight other passengers had been taken to hospitals for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus.

For Doug Perez, the most dangerous part of each day in Wuhan is taking his dog for a walk.

Mr. Perez, 28, grew up around San Francisco, but he has taught math and science for the last two years in the Chinese city where the coronavirus emerged. When it began to spread, he chose to stay.

So when Chubby, a 1-year-old Labrador, needs to go out, Mr. Perez pulls on gloves, straps on a mask, and wriggles into the special jacket and pants that are sprayed down with alcohol after every trip outdoors. Then he slides a yellow jacket over Chubby, too.

The State Department has evacuated hundreds of Americans from Hubei Province, where the outbreak began. But some, like Mr. Perez, have decided not to leave. In his case, it is because he does not want to abandon his girlfriend, who is Chinese.

They have spent more than two weeks in his apartment, along with his girlfriend’s brother. They cook, they watch television (three seasons of “The Sopranos” so far), and they clean — a lot. They scrub down surfaces, furiously wash their hands and disinfect their clothes after going out.

“Sometimes I find I’m out of time, which is crazy,” Mr. Perez said. “You’d think I’d have all the time in the world, but with the coronavirus, a lot of time is spent cleaning.”

Other Americans have also stayed in China because of loved ones. Gabrielle Autry, 26, from Georgia, lives in the eastern city of Hangzhou. She has looked into flights that would take her to the United States — but her fiancé, a Chinese citizen, would not be able to join her, since all foreign citizens are barred from entering the United States if they have recently been in China. If the two were married, it would be a different story.

For now, they are mostly stuck at home, a little bored.

“Together it’s O.K., but alone it would be horrible,” she said. “I just couldn’t fathom it.”

Mr. Perez has tried to make the best of the isolation, working on his coding skills and reading news about the virus. He talks to his family nearly every day. His parents have sent him masks.

“They’ve been supportive of my decision to stay,” he said. “They regret it, but they know me, and I guess they know I’m stubborn about some things.”

His classes have been canceled, and he is not sure if he will be paid after February. The announcement of an American’s death in Wuhan was upsetting, as are the “rumors and mass hysteria” that he often sees on social media.

To treat themselves, the household orders takeout now and again, even though they consider it safer to cook.

“After a rough week, getting a pizza in is worth the risk,” Mr. Perez said.

Chinese academics, professionals and others have created digital petitions calling for freedom of speech amid a widespread outpouring of anger and grief online for Dr. Li Wenliang, who gave early warnings about the coronavirus in Wuhan, only to die of it last week himself.

“Change, and only change, is the best commemoration of Dr. Li Wenliang,” said a petition that had been signed by 28 academics, lawyers and business figures by Sunday morning.

“Otherwise, all our outrage and all our tears will end up as bubbles,” it said. “And we will continue suffering from man-made disasters and our offspring will continue to live in fear.”

Around the country, people have been mourning Dr. Li and engaging in soul-searching, both in private and online, as to whether they’ve been complicit under an authoritarian government that allows for little dissent.

The petitions reflect concerns that the online expressions of frustration will fade, as in several past instances, including a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province and a train accident in 2011.

By Sunday, a petition on the site Matters had been signed by nearly 1,000 people. It urges the government to apologize to Dr. Li and seven other medical workers who were reprimanded for sharing knowledge about the virus. It also calls for the punishment of officials who suppressed information about the outbreak.

“A healthy society should allow more than one voice,” one petition quoted Dr. Li as telling the Chinese magazine Caixin.

China’s ambassador to the United States sought Sunday to play down assertions that Dr. Li’s warnings had been quashed. “I don’t know who tried to silence him, but there was certainly disagreement,” Mr. Cui said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“You see, he was a doctor, and a doctor could be alarmed by some individual cases. But as for the government, you have to do more, you have to base your decisions on more solid evidence and science.” Mr. Cui added.

For China’s leader, Xi Jinping, the outbreak is not just a health crisis, but a political one: a test of the authoritarian system he has built around himself. As his government struggles to contain the virus amid rising public discontent with its performance, the changes that Mr. Xi has ushered in could make it difficult for him to escape blame.

“It’s a big shock to the legitimacy of the ruling party,” said Rong Jian, a writer about politics in Beijing. “I think it could be only second to the June 4 incident of 1989. It’s that big,” he said, referring to the armed crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters that year.

“There’s no doubt about his control over power,” he added, “but the manner of control and its consequences have hurt his legitimacy and reputation.”

Mr. Xi has recognized what is at stake, calling the outbreak “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”

As China’s battle with the coronavirus intensified, Mr. Xi put the country’s No. 2 leader, Li Keqiang, in charge of a leadership group handling the emergency, effectively turning him into the public face of the government’s response. It was Mr. Li who traveled to Wuhan to visit doctors.

Mr. Xi’s retreat from the spotlight, some analysts said, signaled an effort to insulate himself from a campaign that may draw public ire. Yet Mr. Xi has consolidated power, sidelining or eliminating rivals, so there are few people left to blame when something goes wrong.

In an unusual move, a county in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak, is offering cash rewards to people who report a fever — whether their own or someone else’s.

China has responded to the epidemic by sealing off large cities, quarantining people en masse and punishing people for failing to report flulike symptoms.

Now, the Fang County government is trying “incentives,” according to a statement posted Saturday on its website. People who report their own fevers will receive 1,000 renminbi, the equivalent of $143 — a few days’ salary for the average Hubei resident.

The statement also said that people who report the fevers of others would get 500 renminbi, which raised the prospect of neighbors turning one another in. Communist Party cadres who investigate and verify such reports would receive the same amount.

The measures are intended “to promote the early detection, early isolation, early reporting, and early treatment of fever patients,” the statement said.

The first confirmed death of an American citizen in the coronavirus outbreak, which the United States Embassy in Beijing reported on Saturday, is likely to raise questions about whether the State Department has done enough to ensure the safety of Americans in China.

Few details about the American, who died in Wuhan on Thursday, were immediately available. The embassy said the person was 60 years old. Two people familiar with the matter said the person was a woman and had underlying health conditions.

It was not clear whether the person had tried to leave Wuhan on any of the flights organized by the State Department, which have evacuated diplomats and other American citizens from the city and other parts of China.

In a statement, the State Department took a defensive tone, saying that since Jan. 29, it had evacuated around 850 people, most of them Americans, on five charter flights out of Wuhan.

The agency said it had “no higher priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” but there are no current plans to conduct additional flights, even as some Americans elsewhere in China have been asking to be evacuated.

The State Department said Americans should heed its Feb. 2 advisory not to travel to China. To show that its flights appeared to have met the immediate needs of Americans in Wuhan, the department said that its last charter flight, on Thursday, had extra seats after accommodating all Americans on the manifest, so officials were able to offer seats to more than 30 Canadians.

Reporting was contributed by Chris Cameron, Motoko Rich, Eimi Yamamitsu, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Yonette Joseph, Raphael Minder, Rich Barbieri, Raymond Zhong, Tiffany May, Katherine Li, Li Yuan, Chris Buckley, Steven Lee Myers, Sui-Lee Wee, Austin Ramzy and Edward Wong. Yiwei Wang contributed research.

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