China yesterday expanded drastic travel restrictions to contain a viral epidemic that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000, as the US, France and Japan prepared to evacuate their citizens from a quarantined city at the outbreak’s epicenter.
China has locked down the hard-hit province of Hubei in the nation’s center in an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people to slow the spread of the respiratory illness.
The virus’ ability to spread appears to be “getting stronger,” though it is “not as powerful as SARS,” top Chinese health officials said at a press conference, adding that their knowledge of it was limited.
Photo: Chen Chih-chu, Taipei Times
The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the SARS pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Outside the epicenter, four cities — including Beijing and Shanghai — and the eastern province of Shandong announced bans on long-distance buses from entering or leaving their borders, a move that would affect millions of people traveling over the Lunar New Year holiday.
The southern province of Guangdong, Jiangxi in the center, and three cities made it mandatory for residents to wear masks in public.
Originating in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, the virus has spread throughout China and around the world — with cases confirmed in Taiwan and about a dozen countries as far as the US.
The US Department of State yesterday said that it was arranging a flight from Wuhan to San Francisco for consulate staff and other Americans in the city.
The flight is schedueld for tomorrow, it said in an e-mail to Americans in China that warned of “extremely limited” capacity for private citizens.
The French government said it was formulating plans to evacuate staff and families, who would be quarantined in a city in a neighboring province.
Japan is coordinating with the Chinese government to swiftly evacuate its citizens, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
South Korea’s consulate in Wuhan said it was conducting an online poll of its citizens there to gauge demand for a chartered flight out.
Instead of New Year revelry, Wuhan has been seized by an eerie calm that deepened yesterday, as new restrictions banned most road traffic in the metropolis of 11 million.
Loudspeakers broke the silence by offering tips slathered with bravado.
“Do not believe in rumors. Do not spread rumors. If you feel unwell, go to the hospital in time,” the message said.
The health emergency has overwhelmed Wuhan’s hospitals with patients, prompting authorities to send hundreds of medical reinforcements, including military doctors, and start construction on two field hospitals.
With non-essential vehicles banned from the road, volunteers stepped up to drive sick fellow citizens to hospitals.
“There has to be someone who does this,” Zhang Lin, 48, told reporters, as he waited for a patient to emerge from a clinic for the drive back home in nearly deserted streets.
The outbreak is suspected to have originated in a Wuhan market where animals, including rats, snakes and hedgehogs, were reportedly sold as exotic food.
Beijing said it was banning all trade in wildlife until the emergency is over, but conservationists complain that China has previously failed to deliver on pledges to get tough.
Health officials said the virus has since become transmissible between humans.
“From what we see now, this disease is indeed ... not as powerful as SARS,” China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention head Gao Fu (高福) said at a news briefing in Beijing.
However, it also appears that the “spreading ability of the virus is getting stronger,” China’s National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei (馬曉偉) said.
Shanghai yesterday reported its first death — an 88-year-old man who had pre-existing health problems.
Dignitaries from 47 countries yesterday congratulated President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on the commencement of her second term and highlighted Taiwan’s achievements in democracy and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent his congratulations a day earlier. As of noon yesterday, 263 high-ranking officials from 47 countries and global organizations had congratulated Tsai via statements, letters, social media posts or recorded footage, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, while releasing a collection of footage sent by selected dignitaries. The governments of Taiwan’s 15 diplomatic allies sent their congratulations, as did the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy,
REASSURING NUMBERS: Taiwan’s test capacity ranks sixth or seventh among 91 nations, and is not low compared with other nations, Chen Shih-chung said The quarantine period for foreigners visiting Taiwan for business would vary based on the COVID-19 situation of the nation or territory that they are coming from, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday, as it reported the 13th consecutive day of no new cases. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, told reporters at the center’s daily briefing that modified rules covering foreign business visitors had been completed and were ready for him to sign. The complete details of the new rules would be released later this week, he said. Foreigners on long business trips would have
IN PROTEST: The US’ top diplomat said the WHA had been deprived of Taiwan’s scientific expertise, while Tsai said political factors should not be put above health US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Monday condemned Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Assembly (WHA), while President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday lodged a strong protest against the WHO for not inviting Taiwan. Twenty-two nations voiced support for Taiwan’s bid for participation on the first day of the assembly’s two-day virtual meeting, but despite the global community’s unprecedentedly strong support for Taiwan, it remained blocked from the assembly, with WHO member states on Monday agreeing to delay discussion on Taiwan until later this year. Pompeo, who on May 6 urged WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to invite Taiwan to the WHA,
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday announced no new cases of COVID-19, adding that a ban on mask exports would be lifted soon under three conditions. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that 401 people from among the nation’s 440 confirmed cases have been removed from isolation. Yesterday was the 12th consecutive day that no new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Taiwan, and the 37th day of no new domestic cases. “As our local communities have gradually become safe, we should not become careless,” Chen said. “We should continue to take personal protective measures