China virus toll nears 500, airlines cut Hong Kong flights, cases found on cruise ship

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A passenger checks herself with a digital infrared forehead thermometer measurement device at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on February 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Workers set up beds at an exhibition centre that was converted into a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on February 4, 2020. (AFP)
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This handout from the Royal Thai Navy taken and released on Feburary 4, 2020 shows navy officials preparing for the arrival of a plane carrying Thai nationals who had been evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, at U-Tapao Airport in Rayong. (AFP)
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This photo taken on February 3, 2020 shows a doctor being disinfected by his colleague at a quarantine zone in Wuhan, the epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak, in China's central Hubei province. (AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2020

China virus toll nears 500, airlines cut Hong Kong flights, cases found on cruise ship

  • The WHO's statement came as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand all reported new infections not imported from China

BEIJING: The death toll from a coronavirus outbreak in China passed 490 on Wednesday, as two US airlines suspended flights to Hong Kong following the first fatality there and 10 cases were confirmed on a quarantined Japanese cruise ship.
China’s National Health Commission said another 65 deaths had been recorded on Tuesday, bringing the toll on the mainland to 490, mostly in and around the locked-down central city of Wuhan where the virus emerged late last year.
There have been two deaths outside mainland China. A 39-year-old man in Hong Kong with an underlying illness who had visited Wuhan city, the epicenter of the virus, died on Tuesday. A man died in the Philippines last week after visiting Wuhan, the first virus-related overseas fatality.
Across mainland China, there were 3,887 new confirmed infections, bringing the total accumulated number to 24,324.
Ten people on a cruise liner under quarantine at the Japanese port of Yokohama tested positive for coronavirus, Japan health minister said, a figure that could rise as medical screening of thousands of patients and crew continued.
The 10 confirmed cases were among 31 results from 273 people tested so far. There are around 3,700 passengers and crew aboard the Carnival Corp. ship.
Another 176 cases have been reported in 24 other countries and regions, according to the World Health Organization.

Two Malaysians who were flown back from the Chinese city of Wuhan have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Southeast Asian nation’s health ministry said on Wednesday, raising the tally of confirmed cases in the country to 12.
Malaysia sent a flight to Wuhan on Monday to bring back over 100 of its citizens who were stranded there since the city was locked down in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
The two cases, a 45-year-old woman and her 9-year-old son, did not show any symptoms when subjected to health screening on arrival in Kuala Lumpur but lab tests confirmed on Wednesday they had contracted the virus, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said at the ministry’s daily news conference on the coronavirus.
"Both are receiving treatment in an isolation ward... and they are in stable condition," Dzulkefly said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT SPREADS
As the economic impacts of the virus spread, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the epidemic would delay a surge in US exports to China expected from the Phase 1 trade deal set to take effect later this month, the first time a Trump administration official has said the outbreak would hamper the deal.
“It is true the trade deal, the Phase 1 trade deal, the export boom from that trade deal will take longer because of the Chinese virus,” Kudlow said, adding he did not believe the virus would have a catastrophic effect on business supply chains.
Global markets stabilized on Tuesday after days of selling triggered by fears about China’s econmic growth, with many factories closed, cities cut off and travel in and out of China severely restricted.
The financial and health impacts of the epidemic were increasingly being felt in Hong Kong, with American Airlines Group and United Airlines suspending flights to and from the Asian financial hub after this week.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, which relies heavily on passengers who change flights in the financial center, said it plans to cut around 30% of its global capacity over the next two months, including around 90% of its flights to mainland China as it grapples with the coronavirus.

The airline has asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave, saying preserving cash was key for the carrier and that conditions were as grave as during the 2009 financial crisis.
Thousands of medical workers in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region of China, held a second day of strikes on Tuesday to press for complete closure of borders with the mainland after three checkpoints were left open.
“We’re not threatening the government, we just want to prevent the outbreak,” said Cheng, 26, a nurse on strike.
Hong Kong has confirmed about 17 cases. It was badly hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that emerged from China in 2002, killed almost 800 people worldwide and cost the global economy an estimated $33 billion.
Neighbouring Macau, also a special administrative region of China lying across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong, ordered its casinos to suspend operations on Tuesday, effectively closing off the lifeblood of its economy in a drastic measure to contain the epidemic.
Asian stocks steadied on Wednesday on hopes of additional Chinese stimulus to lessen the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.3%. Australian shares were up 0.58%, while Japan’s Nikkei stock index rose 1.19%.

CHINA EVACUATIONS CONTINUE
Beijing has criticized US travel restrictions, barring foreign nationals who have visisted China, as an overreaction and has called on Washington to do more to help China.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex said he hoped China would accept an offer from the United States and the WHO to send epidemiological experts to China.
“We have been requesting this since January 6. The World Health Organization sent names over today. We’re hoping the Chinese will act quickly on that,” Azar told Fox Business Network in an interview.
“This is a novel strain. That’s why we’ve got to get on the ground with the world’s best experts and run the studies to get to the bottom of what is the incubation period. We’ve got to confirm what is the risk of asymptomatic transmission,” he said.

The WHO has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency and experts say much is still unknown, including its mortality rate and transmission routes.
Chinese data suggests the new virus, while much more contagious, is significantly less lethal although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
Several countries including Australia and New Zealand continued to evacuate citizens from Wuhan city. The United States said it may stage additional evacuation flights for private US citizens in China’s virus-hit Wuhan on Thursday.
Wuhan authorities are converting an additional eight buildings, including gymnasiums, exhibition centers and sports centers, into hospitals, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.
The latest announcement adds to plans revealed earlier this week to convert three other venues in the city into hospitals. Once all 11 buildings are converted, a process that is expected to be completed later on Wednesday, they will be able to accommodate 10,000 patients.
A specially constructed hospital in Wuhan, designed with 1,000 beds, opened to patients on Monday, while the building of a second hospital, with 1,600 beds, is also scheduled to be completed on Wednesday

For a graphic comparing coronavirus outbreaks, see https://tmsnrt.rs/2GK6YVK.


Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

Updated 12 July 2020

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

  • Exercise being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers turned up over the weekend to vote in an unofficial two-day primary election held by the city’s pro-democracy camp as it gears up to field candidates for an upcoming legislative poll.
The exercise is being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory in a move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability.
Throngs of people lined up at polling booths in the summer heat to cast their vote despite a warning by Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Eric Tsang last week that the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law, because it outlaws interference and disruption of duties by the local government.
Organizers have dismissed the comments, saying they just want to hold the government accountable by gaining a majority in the legislature.
The legislation prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order Internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
On Friday, police raided the office of the Public Opinion Research Institute, a co-organizer of the primary elections. The computer system was suspected of being hacked, causing a data leak, police said in a statement, and an investigation is ongoing.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes multiple parties, is attempting to join forces and use the primaries as a guide to field the best candidates in the official legislative election in September. Its goal is to win a majority in the legislature, which is typically skewed toward the pro-Beijing camp.
To hold the primary elections, pro-democracy activists had raised money via crowd funding. They pledged to veto the government’s budget if they clinch a majority in the legislature. Under the Basic Law, under which Hong Kong is governed, city leader Carrie Lam must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice.
On Saturday alone, nearly 230,000 people voted at polling booths set up across the city, exceeding organizers’ estimates of a 170,000 turnout over the weekend.