China reports 304 coronavirus deaths, fires officials for poor job

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who heads a leading group on the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus outbreak, visits the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, China January 30, 2020. (REUTERS)
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German and foreign nationals evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, board a bus upon their arrival at Frankfurt am Main's airport, western Germany on February 1, 2020. (AFP)
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Students and family members of Pakistani students living in the Chinese city of Wuhan, protest demanding their return home, in Islamabad on February 1, 2020. (AFP)
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German Air Force Airbus A310 "Kurt Schumacher" lands at Frankfurt am Main's airport, western Germany, with on board German citizens who have been evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak on February 1, 2020. (AFP)
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Airline staff wear face masks to protect against the spread of the Coronavirus as they arrive on a flight from Asia, at Los Angeles International Airport, California, on February 1, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 02 February 2020

China reports 304 coronavirus deaths, fires officials for poor job

  • Both the new virus and SARS are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that cause the common cold

BEIJING: China’s death toll from a new virus increased to 304 on Sunday amid warnings from the World Health Organization that other countries need to be prepared in the event the disease spreads among their populations.
Meanwhile, six officials in the city of Huanggang, neighboring the epicenter of Wuhan in Hubei province, have been fired over “poor performance” in handling the outbreak, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
It cited the mayor as saying the city’s “capabilities to treat the patients remained inadequate and there is a severe shortage in medical supplies such as protective suits and medical masks.”
Figures from the National Health Commission showed an increase of 45 in the death toll and 2,590 in the number of cases for a total of 14,380, well above the number of those infected in in the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which broke out in southern China before spreading worldwide.
Despite imposing drastic travel restrictions at home, China has chafed at those imposed by foreign governments, criticizing Washington’s order barring entry to most non-citizens who visited China in the past two weeks.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced similar measures Saturday, following Japan and Singapore.
South Korea and India flew hundreds of their citizens out of Wuhan, the city at the center of an area where some 50 million people are prevented from leaving in a sweeping anti-virus effort. The evacuees went into a two-week quarantine. Indonesia also sent a plane.
The virus’ rapid spread in two months prompted the World Health Organization on Thursday to declare it a global emergency.
That declaration “flipped the switch” from a cautious attitude to recommending governments prepare for the possibility the virus might spread, said the WHO representative in Beijing, Gauden Galea. Most cases reported so far have been people who visited China or their family members.
The agency acted out of concern for poorer countries that might not be equipped to respond, said Galea. Such a declaration calls for a coordinated international response and can bring more money and resources.
WHO said it was especially concerned that some cases abroad involved human-to-human transmission.
“Countries need to get ready for possible importation in order to identify cases as early as possible and in order to be ready for a domestic outbreak control, if that happens,” Galea told The Associated Press.
The United States declared a public health emergency on Friday and President Donald Trump signed an order barring entry to foreign nationals who visited China within the last 14 days, which scientists say is the virus’ longest incubation period. The restrictions don’t apply to immediate family of American citizens and permanent residents.
China criticized the US controls and “unfriendly comments” alleging that Beijing was failing to cooperate.
“Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the US rushed to go in the opposite way. Certainly not a gesture of goodwill,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Australia, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Vietnam all reported new cases Saturday. Spain confirmed its first case — a German man who had close contact with an infected person in Germany and then traveled to the Canary Islands with friends. Four friends who were hospitalized with him have not shown symptoms.
Both the new virus and SARS are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that cause the common cold.
The death rate in China is falling, but the number of confirmed cases will keep growing because thousands of specimens from suspected cases have yet to be tested, WHO’s Galea said.
“The case fatality ratio is settling out at a much lower level than we were reporting three, now four, weeks ago,” he said.
Although scientists expect to see limited transmission of the virus between people with family or other close contact, they are concerned about cases of infection spreading to people who might have less exposure.


Afghan robotics team builds COVID-19 ventilator

Updated 10 April 2020

Afghan robotics team builds COVID-19 ventilator

  • Team drew up its own product design and sent to MIT, Harvard University for approval

KABUL: A team of Afghan female robotics experts has developed a lifesaving ventilator, made from Toyota car parts, to help with the treatment of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients.

The girls, who won a medal in a global competition for creating a robot that could distinguish between contaminated and clean water, were invited by the governor of the western Afghan city of Herat to try and build a version of the medical device due to a desperate shortage of ventilators in the province.

The impoverished region of war-torn Afghanistan has recently witnessed a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.

The team, aptly named the Afghan Dreamers, initially tried to source parts from abroad for an advanced digital machine, but high costs and flight suspensions caused by the pandemic made shipments to Afghanistan impossible.

Undaunted, the innovative group looked for supplies closer to home, and came up with the idea of using parts from Toyota Corolla cars sourced from local bazaars.

Based on copies of modern ventilators produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, the team drew up its own product design and sent copies to MIT and Harvard University for approval.

“We had to be prepared for the worst situation because we do not have access to Amazon and other companies for online orders. So, it was best to use local devices we have in our country,” tech entrepreneur Roya Mahboob, who set up the team, told Arab News.

“We discussed our design with a professor from MIT, and sent it, based on the MIT prototype, using Toyota Corolla parts. He (the professor) was so surprised and wrote back to us saying that it was a clever design but would need to see if the system worked.

“What we are hoping, is that with the help of MIT we will be able to improve our model and make it ready for actual use by the end of May or June,” added Mahboob.

The prototype ventilator would have to be approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Afghan Public Health Ministry before the team could start producing more machines, said Dr. Mehdi Hadid, a member of the consultative board fighting the spread of COVID-19 in Herat.

“The machine (ventilator) will be able to supply a certain volume of oxygen and adjust the rate of respiration,” he told Arab News.

With acute shortages of electricity in many parts of the country, the ventilator can operate not only on mains supply, but also by battery and solar power, he said.

Afghanistan has 300 digital ventilators and hopes to buy more for its fight against the virus which has so far infected 484 people and claimed 15 lives.

The Afghan Dreamers’ locally made ventilator will cost around $400 and would mostly be used for emergency cases in remote areas where there were few clinics, said Farzana Nekpour, the team’s head of public relations.

“The current challenge for us is the risk of contracting the coronavirus by being in the workshop under one roof working on the design. We work very close together and there is no social distancing, so there is the chance of contamination despite us wearing masks and gloves,” she told Arab News.

Mahboob said that one of the main future challenges would be finding enough Toyota parts to produce more devices, as many shops and outlets were closing due to lockdowns imposed throughout Afghanistan. “But we have to find a means to help people and make this a successful project for our poor nation. It is vital.”

Entrepreneur Mahboob became one of Afghanistan’s first female chief executives at the age of 23. She set up a nonprofit organization to help young women to build digital literacy and has since been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.

In 2017, the members of her all-female robotics team made international headlines when their US visas were rejected not long before they were due to travel to an international robotics competition in Washington, DC. After individual appeals to the US Embassy in Kabul failed, the group took to social media to air their grievances. The team’s plight received international attention and led to US President Donald Trump intervening on their behalf.

The team returned from the competition with a silver medal for “courageous achievement” won by their ball-sorting robot, designed to distinguish between contaminated and clean water.

Since returning home, the team has become an inspiration for women seeking higher education in male-dominated Afghanistan, where about 40 percent of women are literate.

Its other achievements include the development of a device to help farmers pick saffron, one of the country’s main industries, and the building of drones and robots for use in the mining sector.