Designated hospitals in the Chinese city at the center of a coronavirus outbreak started taking only severe or critical patients, as more Chinese cities imposed restrictions on movement to help contain the fast-spreading pathogen that has killed nearly 500 people.
Meanwhile, two major U.S. airlines, United Airlines Holdings Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc. suspended flights to Hong Kong until Feb. 20, citing a lack of demand, as the number of confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland grew beyond 24,000. Both airlines and several other global carriers had previously halted service to the mainland. In the U.S., two planes carrying hundreds of Americans evacuating Wuhan landed at an Air Force base in California.
THE LATEST ON THE CORONAVIRUS
American Airlines and United suspended flights to Hong Kong
10 people on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan tested positive
The death toll neared 500, with more than 24,000 confirmed cases
Hong Kong will quarantine all travelers from mainland China for 14 days
The World Health Organization on Wednesday reported the largest single-day increase in new cases and said it is seeking $675 million in funding to help countries strengthen their public-health capacities to prevent the coronavirus’s spread.
The medical system in China’s Hubei province, where the virus broke out in Wuhan, the capital, in December, has been overwhelmed by the virus, and front-line staff have been forced to turn patients away as authorities race to build new hospitals.
A 1,000-bed facility was completed in Wuhan on Sunday and began receiving patients, while the second—a 1,600-bed hospital—was set to open on Wednesday, less than two weeks after plans for their construction were announced. Roughly two dozen hospitals in the city have been designated for virus treatment, and other facilities are being repurposed as well.
Hu Lishan, a local Communist Party official, said at a press conference Wednesday night that many patients confirmed to have the coronavirus hadn’t been admitted to hospitals designated for virus treatment because of a lack of available beds. The situation was distressing and painful, he said.
Jiang Rongmeng, a member of the Chinese National Health Commission’s team studying the virus, said inadequate medical resources in Wuhan were contributing to a higher mortality rate there.
“The medical resources in Wuhan, especially the ICU team, are not enough to deal with this severe treatment,” he said in an interview on Tuesday with state broadcaster China Central Television. The death rate from the virus in the city is 4.9%, more than twice the nationwide 2.1%, according to the health commission.
Wuhan Children’s Hospital on Wednesday said it had two cases of the coronavirus being transmitted in the womb to baby from mother, the Communist Party-run People’s Daily reported. The younger of the infected babies was 30 hours old.
In a Foreign Ministry press briefing on Wednesday—held over the Chinese messaging app WeChat instead of at the ministry because of the outbreak—spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the U.S. would dispatch experts to join a China-World Health Organization joint group. A batch of supplies sent by American businesses and institutions had arrived in Wuhan on Tuesday, she added. China has previously singled out the U.S. for imposing what it called excessive travel restrictions since the outbreak began.
Cities throughout China are putting increasingly severe restrictions on residents. Zhumadian, a city in Henan province—which borders Hubei—is allowing one person per household to leave every five days to buy supplies.
At least a half-dozen Chinese cities, including the tech hub of Hangzhou, near Shanghai, have imposed similar regulations, though typically allowing shopping every other day. Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, has been under lockdown for two weeks.
In Beijing, catering services were prohibited from organizing and hosting group gatherings, according to a notice issued by the local government.
In Japan, 10 people on a cruise ship under quarantine tested positive for the virus, and passengers and crew members of another cruise ship in Hong Kong that had previously carried eight people confirmed to be infected with the virus were blocked from disembarking until a health check was completed.
The Wuhan virus has spread more rapidly than SARS did in 2003, but its fatality rate has been lower.
DAYS SINCE INITIAL CASE REPORTED*▶
*First SARS case occurred November 2002; first Wuhan virus case occurred December 2019. Note: Case count as of Feb. 5 Sources: WHO; Johns Hopkins; the Lancet
Hong Kong, which earlier reported its first death from the virus, on Wednesday said it would impose a 14-day quarantine on all people arriving from the mainland—an escalation from a previous rule barring only people who were residents of or had recently been to Hubei. The death in Hong Kong was the second outside the mainland, where by the end of Tuesday the number of fatalities from the virus had reached 490.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Hong Kong authorities had confirmed nearly two dozen cases. The city was hit hard in 2002 and 2003 by an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Of the nearly 800 deaths from SARS, 299 were in Hong Kong.
The city’s new quarantine policy applies to all travelers from mainland China—including Hong Kong residents, mainland Chinese nationals and foreign visitors—and will take effect Saturday night.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the special Chinese territory would immediately shut down two of its cruise terminals after a cruise ship that had previously carried eight people confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus docked in the city on Wednesday morning.
Coronaviruses: From Animals to Humans
Researchers aren't sure how the novel coronavirus first infected people in China, but the viruses that cause SARS and MERS, which originated in bats, provide clues.
Proteins on the outer shell of the virus allow it to latch onto cells in the host’s respiratory tract. The proteins’ shapes are determined by the virus’s genes.
Bat respiratory tract
To infect new hosts, the virus’s genes undergo mutations that alter its surface proteins, allowing them to latch onto the cells of new species.
Human respiratory tract
In the case of SARS, the virus jumped from bats to civet cats before gaining the ability to infect humans. In the case of MERS, camels served as the intermediate host.
Coronaviruses can also jump directly to humans, without mutating or passing through an intermediate species.
Researchers have found the novel coronavirus likely originated in bats, but haven't pinpointed the source of transmission to humans.
Source: Timothy Sheahan, University of North Carolina
Alberto Cervantes and Josh Ulick /THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
This week, Hong Kong shut four checkpoints with China amid a five-day strike by the city’s hospital workers who are demanding a full border closure. The cruise-terminal closures leave the city with three open checkpoints. Mrs. Lam said a full closure wouldn’t be practical.
Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., the city’s flagship carrier, asked all its employees to take three weeks of optional unpaid leave from March 1 to June 30 because of the virus and a drop in demand, a representative of the airline said. Previously, the airline, already suffering from reduced travel to Hong Kong because of months of protests, said it was cutting capacity by 30%.
In Yokohama, just south of Tokyo, nine passengers and one crew member from the cruise ship Diamond Princess were taken to hospitals after testing positive for the virus, and all 3,700 people still on board are likely to be kept there for two weeks, Japan’s health minister said on Wednesday. The ship was put under quarantine after an 80-year-old man who had disembarked in Hong Kong tested positive.
In the U.S., two planes carrying hundreds of Americans evacuating Wuhan landed at the Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., early Wednesday. One plane will stay at the Air Force base, while the second will refuel and fly to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. The continued evacuations come a week after more than 200 Americans returned to the U.S. in a State Department-led effort.
Throughout their journey to the U.S., passengers were screened for symptoms of the highly contagious virus. The evacuees will undergo a 14-day quarantine at both of these sites, officials said, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
CDC officials said the agency is expecting additional cases of the virus in the U.S., likely among the passengers coming from Hubei province. There have been 12 cases confirmed in the U.S., federal and state health authorities said, and all but two of the patients had recently returned from China.
At Travis Air Force Base, 178 evacuees—from ages 2 to over 65—will stay at the on-site lodging facility Westwind Inn. One child had a fever on the plane and was transported to a local hospital to be evaluated in an isolated area.
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“They’ve been through a lot and we’re going to do everything possible to care for them,” said Henry Walke, director of CDC’s division of preparedness and emerging infections.
On Tuesday, officials at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar handed out pamphlets and held information sessions for the community ahead of the arrival of evacuees, according to social-media posts. The plane carrying more evacuees landed at Miramar on Wednesday.
Two more planes carrying passengers from Wuhan are expected to land in the U.S. on Thursday, said Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. While she didn’t specify their exact destination, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and the Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Neb., are preparing for evacuees.
The Pentagon on Wednesday said it has expanded the number of U.S. military bases designated to hold people who need to be quarantined, adding Camp Ashland, Neb., to sites available for use by U.S. health officials.
The government of Taiwan joined counterparts world-wide in tightening its borders to Chinese citizens: Those living on the mainland will be barred entry starting on Thursday, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control said. Beijing largely bars its nationals from traveling to the self-ruling island.
The Taipei government, which had previously said it would refuse entry starting Friday to foreigners who had traveled to mainland China in the past two weeks, said those who had traveled to Hong Kong or Macau will have to self-quarantine.
The world of finance took a hit from the coronavirus as Credit Suisse Group AG canceled its signature Asian Investor Conference in Hong Kong, one of the city’s biggest financial-industry gatherings, citing health and safety risks, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday. It marked the first time the conference, scheduled for March each year, has been canceled since it began in 1998. The conference attracted more than 2,000 investors from around the world last year.
—Jennifer Calfas, Bingyan Wang, Jing Yang, Frances Yoon, Betsy McKay and Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article.N