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Coronavirus Live Updates: Death Toll Soars in China; a Run on Stores in Hong Kong


The death toll and number of infections continued to soar in China, officials said Thursday.

It has been two weeks since the authorities in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, declared that the city would be locked down as they tried to contain the virus’s spread. The cordon that was first imposed around the city of 11 million quickly expanded to encircle roughly 50 million people in the province of Hubei.

The lockdown is unprecedented in scale and experts have questioned its effectiveness. Wuhan and the province of Hubei have borne the brunt of the epidemic as the sudden shutdown of transportation links into and around it slowed down the transportation of vital medical supplies. The fatality rate in Wuhan is 4.1 percent and 2.8 percent in Hubei, compared to just 0.17 percent elsewhere in mainland China.

Health officials said that 563 people had died from the virus, up from nearly 500 people the day before, and that 28,018 cases had been confirmed. On Monday, the number of confirmed cases was put at 20,438, meaning the number increased more than 35 percent in just a few days.

Many doctors believe that the number of deaths and infections are undercounted because hospitals and laboratories are under severe strain to test for the virus. Local officials in Hubei Province, the center of the outbreak, have called on health care workers to speed up the process.

Many sick residents in Hubei also say that they have been turned away by overstretched hospitals, which lack test kits and beds.

The widening scope of the new virus has strained China’s health care system and brought the country to a standstill. The government has sealed off more cities, canceled public gatherings and shut down schools.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, said on Wednesday that the country was at a “critical moment” in its fight against the coronavirus epidemic and ordered a crackdown on people who undermine the country’s efforts to control the outbreak.

Mr. Xi also said his government would crack down on people who assault medical workers and who manufacture and sell fake products, according to Xinhua, the state-run news agency. He also said that officials would take aim at those who resist epidemic prevention and control efforts, including by spreading false rumors.

  • Updated Feb. 5, 2020

    • Where has the virus spread?
      You can track its movement with 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.

On Monday, Mr. Xi called the epidemic “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”

The epidemic has strained China’s health care system and brought the country to a virtual standstill. And the virus continues to spread.

From Chris Buckley, our chief China correspondent, on the ground in Wuhan:

In the mornings, Wuhan is so quiet that bird calls sound down once busy streets. Stray dogs trot in the middle of empty expressways. Residents wrapped in masks creep out of their homes, anxiety flitting across their eyes.

They line up at hospitals overwhelmed by a virus that most had not heard of until a few weeks ago.

They line up outside pharmacies despite the door signs declaring they have sold out of protective masks, disinfectant, surgical gloves and thermometers. They line up to buy rice, fruit and vegetables from food stores that keep operating, while nearly all other shops are closed.

Then they shuffle home to wait out this 21st-century siege. The unluckiest ones lie at home or in a hospital, stricken by pneumonia fevers that could spell death linked to coronavirus 2019-nCoV.

“I’ve started to lose track of the days,” said Yang Dechao, a burly 34-year-old factory worker trapped in Wuhan. “Is it Sunday or Monday? You forget because all normal activity has stopped. Ordinary people have just their families and their phones.”

Soothing recorded messages playing over loudspeakers say that the government cares, and admonish residents to wear masks and minimize outings. Red banners hang on road barriers and walls, telling residents not to heed hearsay about miracle cures.

“Don’t panic,” says one banner. “Don’t allow rumors to make a mess of things.”

But after Wuhan officials silenced early talk of the virus outbreak as “rumor mongering,” many residents are skeptical about the reassuring official message.

“First, we need honesty and transparency now,” said Mao Shuo, a 26-year-old engineering company worker who had briefly tugged down her mask outside for a cigarette. “Who’s to blame, who gets punished, that must come, but now we just want to survive.”

Rumors of an impending toilet paper shortage incited Hong Kong residents to make a furious dash to stock up on Wednesday night, despite little evidence supplies were running low.

Across the city, shelves cleared within hours as messages claiming to have inside information from Wellcome, a supermarket chain, were passed around online. The messages claimed that suspended manufacturing in mainland China would cause most brands of toilet paper to run out soon.

In a statement, Wellcome’s parent company, Dairy Farm Group, said the rumors were false and that it was “working closely with our suppliers to provide sufficient and diversified choices of products to our customers.”

The sudden demand for toilet paper reflected a city on edge, fearful that what has so far been a modest number of confirmed cases could soon explode. It also reflected a distrust in the government, besieged by pro-democracy protests that have boiled for eight months, and its ability to respond to the crisis.

Most residents of Hong Kong, scarred by the SARS outbreak of 2002, wear surgical masks in public, which has led to an actual citywide shortage. Outside a drugstore in the North Point neighborhood, a line of about 100 people snaked around a sidewalk on Thursday, despite a sign at the door saying no masks would be sold there.

“Please do not queue up,” the sign said, to no avail.

On Thursday, would-be visitors to the website for ParknShop, a grocery chain, were forced to wait in an online queue just to access the shopping site. At noon, the wait was more than an hour, with 25,000 people waiting their turn.

As the number of coronavirus infections in China continues to surge without any sign of slowing down, the ruling Communist Party has clamped down on the news media and the internet, signaling an effort to control the narrative about a crisis that has become a once-in-a-generation challenge for leaders in Beijing.

With frustrations running high across the country, China’s leaders appear to be strengthening information controls after a brief spell in which news organizations were able to report thoroughly on the crisis, and many negative comments about the official response were left uncensored online.

In recent days, both the state-run news media and more commercially minded outlets have been told to focus on positive stories about virus relief efforts, according to three people at Chinese news organizations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal directives.

Internet platforms have removed a variety of articles that suggest shortcomings in the Chinese government’s response or are otherwise negative about the outbreak.

Local officials have also cracked down on what they call online “rumors” about the virus. China’s Ministry of Public Security this week lauded such efforts, which have continued even after one person who was reprimanded for spreading rumors turned out to be a doctor sounding the alarm about early cases of the illness.

In the early days of the crisis, online vitriol had largely been directed at the local authorities. Now, more of the anger is being aimed at higher-level leadership, and there seems to be more of it over all, said King-wa Fu, an associate professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.

Reporting was contributed by Daniel Victor, Sui-Lee Wee, Raymond Zhong and Chris Buckley.

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