China reported its highest daily coronavirus death toll Tuesday, the 103 additional fatalities pushing the total past 1,100 and providing a somber warning that the epidemic represents “a very grave threat to the rest of the world.”
All but two of the 1,115 deaths attributed to the outbreak that emerged in December have been in mainland China. The virus is continuing to spread into other countries: Almost 500 of the 45,182 confirmed cases are outside China. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week reported the 13th case in the U.S.
“The rise in mortality cases is concerning,” Ogbonnaya Omenka, an assistant professor and public health specialist at Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, told USA TODAY. “In China, health workers are overstretched, and diagnostic processes are not keeping up with the cases.”
Omenka said testing and confirming cases takes longer because of a shortage of diagnostic tools. And supportive treatment is not available for many cases because of the shortage of facilities and health workers, he said.
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A team from the World Health Organization arrived in China this week to lay the groundwork for a larger international team that will aid the Chinese effort while learning traits of the outbreak that could help scientists contain its spread, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“With 99% of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” Tedros said. “It’s hard to believe that just two months ago, this virus – which has come to captivate the attention of media, financial markets and political leaders – was completely unknown to us.”
Quarantine ends for some American evacuees
In the U.S., almost 200 people evacuated from Wuhan, China, on the first charter flight from the country were being released Tuesday, said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said the 195 people had been monitored for symptoms of the respiratory virus for the past 14 days, the maximum incubation time. None had common symptoms such as fever or coughing.
Of the 800 people evacuated on five separate charter flights, only one person has been confirmed with coronavirus, Schuchat said.
Spreads easier than SARS – but less lethal
Schuchat said coronavirus seems to spread more easily than SARS – severe acute respiratory syndrome – but appears to be less lethal. SARS, which originated in China and spread globally in 2003, killed about one in 10 people. So far, the death rate for coronavirus is about 2% in China, and that figure might drop as China counts people with milder cases. The transmissibility of the virus may be more similar to that of the flu or the common cold, she said.
“It may be with additional cases, particularly if they don’t involve symptoms or very mild symptoms, that it will be very difficult to block the spread,” Schuchat said.
US workers at Hong Kong consulate given OK to leave
The State Department has authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency employees at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong. One death and 49 coronavirus cases have been reported in the administrative region of China. The decision to allow employees and their families the option of leaving was made “out of an abundance of caution,” a department spokesperson said in a statement. The status will be reviewed in 30 days, the statement said.
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Coronavirus gets new name
WHO announced a formal name for the coronavirus – COVID-19. Tedros said officials needed a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people. It also had to be pronounceable and related to the disease, he said.
“Having a name matters, to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” he said. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks.”
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13th US case confirmed
The CDC confirmed the 13th U.S. coronavirus case Monday. The case, detected in California, involved a patient under a federal quarantine order at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego after recently returning from Wuhan.
Wuhan and Hubei province are where the outbreak of respiratory illness caused by the virus was discovered in December .
The CDC said it was conducting a thorough “contact investigation” of the person who has tested positive to determine whether friends, relatives or others are should be considered high-risk.
About 800 Americans evacuated from Wuhan remain under quarantine.
World coronavirus summit underway
WHO, which declared a global emergency two weeks ago, on Tuesday convened a two-day global forum to encourage international action and fast-track new tests, treatments and vaccines. The forum, meeting in Geneva with some experts attending remotely, includes scientists, researchers from public health agencies, regulatory experts and bioethicists with expertise in research emergencies.
“We want you to know that we stand with you in solidarity and we wish you courage, patience, success and good health in these extremely trying circumstances,” Tedros told participants.
Japan may let elderly exit quarantined cruise ship
In Japan, the government is considering a plan to release some elderly passengers with chronic illnesses from a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama over coronavirus infection fears, multiple media outlets in Japan reported.
One hundred thirty-five of the 3,700 people aboard have tested positive for the virus. The government had asked about 3,600 passengers and crew members to stay on board during the two-week isolation period through Feb. 19. About 80% of the 2,666 passengers are 60 or older; 215 are in their 80s and 11 are in their 90s, authorities say.
Masahiro Kami, head of the nonprofit Medical Governance Research Institute, told Kyodo News that elderly people with chronic illnesses that stress from confinement to cramped cabins could make them “susceptible to virus infection and risk their lives.”