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Coronavirus: Hong Kong reports first death as China's leadership admits ‘shortcomings’ | World news

Hong Kong has reported its first death from coronavirus, as the number of fatalities in China passed 420 and its leadership admitted “shortcomings” in its handling of the outbreak.

A 39-year-old man with an underlying health condition died on Tuesday morning, according to the public broadcaster RTHK.

His death is the second fatality outside of mainland after a Chinese national from Wuhan was confirmed on Sunday to have died in the Philippines.

China confirmed 64 new deaths on Tuesday – surpassing Monday’s record to post the biggest daily increase since the virus was detected late last year in the central province of Hubei.

The virus has killed at least 426 people, exceeding the 349 mainland fatalities from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak of 2002-03, which killed nearly 800 globally.

The total number of infections in China also jumped, to more than 20,000. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the crisis a global health emergency, with at least 151 cases in 23 other countries and regions.

The virus is taking an increasing economic toll, shutting down businesses, curbing international travel and affecting production lines of major global brands.

China’s currency and stock markets steadied in choppy trade after anxiety over the virus hit the yuan on Monday and erased about $400bn (£308bn) in market value from Shanghai’s benchmark index. Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub, said it had asked all casino operators to suspend operations for two weeks to help curb the spread of the virus.

Fresh cases were reported in the US, including a patient in California infected through close contact with someone in the same household who had been infected in China.

It was the second instance of person-to-person spread in the US after a case reported last week in Illinois.

“We expect to see more cases of person-to-person spread,” said Dr Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been 15 confirmed cases in Hong Kong, where authorities announced new border closures after hundreds of medical workers went on strike on Monday over the government’s refusal to stop travellers from mainland China. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said measures would be taken “to reduce people movement across the border”.

Hospital staff said the 39-year-old victim had a pre-existing chronic illness and had visited Wuhan in January before falling ill. His 72-year-old mother was also confirmed to have contracted the virus.


Late on Monday, China’s elite Politburo Standing Committee called for improvements to the “national emergency management system” following “shortcoming and difficulties exposed in the response to the epidemic”, according to the official Xinhua news agency. “It is necessary to strengthen market supervision, resolutely ban and severely crack down on illegal wildlife markets and trade,” it added.

The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, who led the meeting, said the outbreak was a “major test” of China’s system and ability to govern.

“We must sum up the experience and draw a lesson from it”, he said, according to a summary of the meeting, as well as “face shortcomings and weaknesses exposed by the outbreak”, he said, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

“The outcome of the epidemic prevention and control directly affects people’s lives and health, the overall economic and social stability and the country’s opening-up,” he said.

Several countries have instituted restrictions on travellers from mainland China. After the US began implementing a sweeping ban on all foreign nationals travelling from China, the government in Beijing accused Washington of sparking “panic” with its response to the coronavirus, including a ban on foreigners who have recently been to China.

Experts say much is still unknown about the pathogen, including its mortality rate and transmission routes. With more than 20,000 confirmed infections, the mortality rate for the new coronavirus is be lower than the 9.6% rate for Sars, but it appears to be more contagious. Reports of deaths not counted in official statistics have also cast doubt on the mortality rate.

Such uncertainties have spurred extreme measures by some countries to stem the spread. Australia sent hundreds of evacuees from Wuhan to a remote island in the Indian Ocean, while Japan ordered the quarantine of a cruise ship with more than 3,000 onboard after a Hong Kong man who sailed on it last month tested positive for the virus.

What is the virus causing illness in Wuhan?

It is a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals, or possibly seafood. New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are examples.

What other coronaviruses have there been?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals.

What are the symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus?

The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died are known to have been already in poor health.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

Human to human transmission has been confirmed by China’s national health commission. As of 3 February, 361 people have died in China, and one in the Philippines. Confirmed infections in China are 17,238, and the official Chinese figures include Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Outside of China, infections stand at more than 150.

Two members of one family have been confirmed to have the virus in the UK, after more than 160 were tested and found negative. The actual number to have contracted the virus could be far higher as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected. Modelling by World Health Organization (WHO) experts at Imperial College London suggests there could be as many as 100,000 cases, with uncertainty putting the margins between 30,000 and 200,000.

How worried are the experts?

There were fears that the coronavirus might spread more widely during the week-long lunar new year holidays, which start on 24 January, when millions of Chinese travel home to celebrate, but the festivities have largely been cancelled and Wuhan and other Chinese cities are in lockdown.

At what point should you go to the doctor if you have a cough, say?

Unless you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected with the virus, then you should treat any cough or cold symptoms as normal. The NHS advises that there is generally no need to visit a doctor for a cough unless it is persistent or you are having other symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or you feel very unwell.

Should we panic?

No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. It increases the likelihood that the World Health Organization will declare the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday evening. The key concerns are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital.

Sarah Boseley Health editor and Hannah Devlin 

In Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have jumped from animals at a market into humans, authorities have been racing to build two new hospitals to treat the infected.

The first of those – a 1,000-bed facility – “began to receive” patients on Monday, the People’s Daily reported, only 10 days after construction began, but no details were offered about how many. A second hospital is due to open later this week.

In Wuhan, which has been transformed from a bustling industrial hub into a near-ghost town, residents have been living in deep fear of catching the virus.

Wuhan hospitals under pressure as China says coronavirus is getting stronger – video

The city’s medical facilities have been overwhelmed, with Xinhua reporting that 68 medical teams of 8,300 staff had been sent to Hubei.

Authorities have started converting a gymnasium, exhibition centre and cultural complex into makeshift hospitals with more than 3,400 beds for patients with mild infections, the official Changjiang Daily said.

With Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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