Cruise Ship Coronavirus Cases Spike 30%; First Death Recorded In Europe

Summary:

  • Toll of infected passengers and crew aboard 'the Diamond Princess' climbs to 285; The US arranges a charter plane for Americans aboard ship. 

  • First fatality in Europe as Chinese tourist died in France. 

  • China has sent 217 medical rescue groups totaling 25,633 personnel to Hubei province to fight the outbreak.

  • First case reported in Africa after the Egyptian Health Ministry confirms non-Egyptian patient who recently traveled to China

  • Hubei health officials report 2,420 new cases and 139 new deaths for Feb. 14

  • NHC officials report an additional 4 deaths and 2,641 cases.

  • China warns of incoming case surge

  • China says 1,716 medical workers have been infected

  • WHO demands to know more about sick doctors, insists group of 12 virus experts will reach Beijing over the weekend

  • Singapore reports largest daily jump in cases amid increased human-to-human transmission

  • Singapore reports 5 new cases

  • Egypt confirms first case; virus now present in 29 countries/territories

  • Hong Kong reports 3 new cases

  • New quarantine measures take effect in Wuhan

  • Hong Kong Disney land offers space for quarantine

  • Chinese company says blood plasma of recovered patients useful in combating the virus

  • US mulling new travel restrictions

  • Japan reports 4 new cases; one patient recently returned from Hawaii.

  • CDC Director: Virus is "Coming" to the US.

  • 5 presumptive cases reported in British Columbia

* * * 

Update (0845ET): The Epoch Times' Jennier Zeng has brought us another interesting tidbit exposing the culpability of President Xi and the rest of the Politburo in failing to contain COVID-19 before it achieved pandemic status.

We're certain President Xi will eventually release an official clarification for these remarks.

* * *

Update (0825ET): Singapore reports 5 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the city-state to 72.

Singapore is really pulling ahead of Hong Kong here, which has clocked just 56 cases. Still, outside China, Japan is the true No. 2 thanks to the 'Diamond Princess'.

* * *

Update (0645 a.m. ET):  

Good morning. It's Saturday, and the Covid-19 outbreak continues to worsen. 

Reports in the overnight detail how new confirmed virus cases are quickly increasing on the cruise ship plagued with Covid-19 in Japan. Another report specified that the U.S. government is preparing chartered flights for Americans aboard the vessel. Europe's first death related to the virus was also reported, as the virus outbreak spreads from East to West. 

Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters on Saturday that a 30% jump in cases were confirmed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. 

The U.S. Embassy in Japan is preparing to evacuate Americans aboard the quarantined cruise ship would be able to catch a flight back to the U.S. via a chartered plane. 

About 380 Americans are aboard the ship, which is currently docked at Yokohama, a port city southwest of Tokyo. 

So far, 285 people have tested positive for the virus after the new 67 cases were reported on Saturday. 

Japan said any American that is "confirmed to be infected with coronavirus would not be taken back to the U.S. on the planned chartered flight." 

The timing of the virus outbreak for Japan is devastating for its image ahead of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 this summer. 

Authorities said Saturday morning that eight more Tokyo residents were infected.

Europe's first fatality related to the virus was confirmed on Saturday when an elderly Chinese tourist hospitalized in France died, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said. 

So far, France has reported 11 cases of the virus, out of 66,887 global cases. The epicenter of the virus is in China, where at least 1,500 people have died, likely a higher figure considering the outbreak is being underreported. 

The Chinese Foreign Minister responded to U.S. criticism of how they've handled the outbreak, saying all accusations against China are lies, none of which are facts. 

Remember when everyone said the virus was "contained"? 

* * *

Update (2200ET): China has sent 217 medical rescue groups totaling 25,633 medical rescue personnel to Hubei province, 20,374 of whom are from local areas, according to the Global Times. This exceeds the number sent to support the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake which killed over 80,000 people.

* * *

Update (1900ET): The NHC has followed up the officials from Hubei with revised nation-wide figures.

Nationwide, officials reported another 4 deaths, and another 2,641 cases, bringing the nationwide total as of end of day Friday to 66,492.

  • CHINA HAD 143 DEATHS FROM CORONAVIRUS FEB. 14, STATEMENT SAYS
  • CHINA ADDS 2,641 NEW CONFIRMED CORONAVIRUS CASES ON FEB. 14
  • CHINA SAYS TOTAL CORONAVIRUS CASES RISE TO 66,492

* * *

Update (1800ET): Here are the confirmed numbers out of Hubei for Feb. 14, Ying Yong's first day as the province's new party chief.

Offering less information than usual (just figures on new cases and deaths), health officials from the province reported 2,420 new cases and 139 new deaths.

  • CHINA'S HUBEI PROVINCE REPORTS 139 CORONAVIRUS DEATHS FEB. 14
  • CHINA'S HUBEI TOTAL CORONAVIRUS CONFIRMED CASES RISE TO 54,406

Friday marked the beginning of 'war time' conditions in Wuhan, accompanied by a total ban on leaving one's dwelling for any reason other than a government-authorized service or to receive treatment.

* * *

Update (1650ET): On Friday morning, Japanese health officials confirmed four new cases of the coronavirus, including one individual who had recently visited the US state of Hawaii.

We must admit, we were a little alarmed when we saw that, but with no additional information about the timing or circumstances of this alleged visit, we didn't really get into it.

Another one of the recent cases in Japan is the son of the first woman who succumbed to the virus in the country. He works as a taxi driver, and was reportedly ferrying people around before his symptoms emerged, raising fears that he could have infected others.

The Mainichi, a national newspaper in Japan, said the government will carry out tests on some 100 people, including around 80 party attendees, who came into close contact with the taxi driver. Already, around 10 have complained of symptoms like fevers or coughs.

So far, more than 250 people in Japan, including 218 passengers and crew from 'the Diamond Princess', have already been confirmed to be infected.

Still, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said there is "no reason for changing the government position that it has yet to reach a state of epidemic in Japan."

Looks like the government was smart to separate out the cruise ship numbers from the total cases confirmed in Japan.

But for Americans, this is the most disturbing passage from the Mainichi story.

In Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, a man in his 60s who recently returned from a trip to Hawaii has tested positive for the coronavirus, the city government said. He has not visited China recently.

In cases reported Thursday in the western prefecture of Wakayama, a route of contraction is not known, either.

Is it possible that he could have picked up the virus in Hawaii, a popular vacation destination for Chinese and Japanese travelers? It might be unlikely, but one never knows.

* * *

Update (1545ET): For anybody who hoped Wednesday's surge in new cases and deaths in Wuhan might have been a one off - we're sorry to disappoint.

Unfortunately, it looks like the data dump (which was blamed on a pro forma death accounting) was only the beginning. Because Chinese health officials warned Friday afternoon that despite a drop on Thursday, they expect a "surge" of cases in the coming days.

Hubei confirmed 4,823 new cases on Thursday, including 3,095 cases diagnosed via X-Ray or CAT scan showing evidence of pneumonia. That was a sudden plunge from the previous day's total of 14,840 new cases including 13,332 clinically diagnosed cases. On Thursday, 116 deaths were reported in Hubei, down from Wednesday's 242.

And as the lockdown in Wuhan intensifies...

Of course, there's little point in lying to people if you're planning on telling them the "truth" the next day, so at least we understand the reason for the warning. But the news is breaking during the early morning hours of Saturday in China.

Back in North America, British Columbia has a presumptive fifth case, though it looks like it hasn't yet been confirmed, according to BNO.

* * *

Update (1415ET): The Egyptian Health Ministry has announced the first coronavirus case in Egypt - the first confirmed patient on the African continent, according to the Financial Times. According to the ministry, the case was discovered through its electronic registration program to track people who have visited countries with reported infections.

The person in question is not Egyptian and is asymptomatic, but tested positive for the virus. They have been placed in isolation in a local hospital, according to the ministry.

As we reported earlier in the week, Africa - which has seen an influx of Chinese nationals in recent years (and a ton of half-Chinese babies born to single mothers) is woefully unprepared for the coronavirus.

“We’re definitely not prepared. If we had a couple of cases, it would spread very quickly,” physiotherapist Fundi Sinkala said.

“We’re doing the best we can with what resources we have.” -AP

Of note, around 1 million Chinese now live in Africa.

* * *

Update (1330ET): As we mentioned earlier during our introduction to Ying Yong, the President Xi protege and former Shanghai mayor who is now running Hubei Province for the Communist Party, the new seven more draconian quarantine measures that he's imposing on Wuhan are taking effect.

The city reportedly announced Friday afternoon (NYC time) that the new measures had taken effect. According to BBG, residents of the  city of more than 11 million where the outbreak began must now stay in their homes, except to receive treatment or provide a sanctioned government service.

Get ready for more scenes like this:

So much for getting China 'back to work'.

* * *

Update (1200ET): Bloomberg just reported that Egypt has confirmed its first coronavirus case.

  • EGYPT CONFIRMS FIRST CORONAVIRUS CASE, HEALTH MINISTRY SAYS AFFECTED PERSON IS A FOREIGNER - STATE TV

That's the 29th country or territory to report at least one case of the coronavirus. It's not yet clear where the patient might've been infected.

* * *

Update (1040ET): The WHO has just wrapped up its now-daily presser for Friday, and it appeared to focus on imminent plans to send a group of a dozen scientists and researchers to Beijing to figure out exactly what the hell is going on.

Much fuss has been made over the past week over China's continued refusals to allow Americans, or any other foreigners, for that matter, to offer assistance with the virus response. It's almost as if they're...hiding something...

Even after yesterday's big reveal about the change in their 'pro forma accounting standards' to reflect a higher death toll and number of confirmed cases (the jump alarmed global investors and prompted a selloff on equity markets), China still won't let Americans participate in a WHO-sponsored team of 12 researchers who are traveling to the mainland.

It was a big deal earlier this week when Beijing said it would reluctantly accept the team, ending weeks of suspiciously standoffish behavior (though the WHO bigwigs did travel to Beijing for meetings). But as one analyst said earlier on CNBC: 'We want to see foreign boots on the ground before we simply take the Chinese at their word'.

It's also notable how the WHO, initially a purveyor of what seemed like propaganda hot off the presses in Beijing, seems to have turned completely against its benefactor, now treating it with public suspicion.

  • WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION TEDROS SAYS WE NEED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT INFECTION OF 1,760 CHINESE HEALTH WORKERS, INCLUDING TIME PERIOD AND CIRCUMSTANCES
  • WHO BOSS TEDROS SAYS HE EXPECTS FULL TEAM OF WHO-LED INTERNATIONAL HEALTH EXPERTS TO TOUCH DOWN IN CHINA OVER WEEKEND TO HELP PROBE CORONAVIRUS
  • WHO MISSION TO CHINA WILL FOCUS ON UNDERSTANDING TRANSMISSION OF CORONAVIRUS, SEVERITY OF DISEASE AND IMPACT OF ONGOING RESPONSE MEASURES - WHO CHIEF TEDROS SAYS
  • WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION TEDROS SAYS WE NEED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT INFECTION OF 1,760 CHINESE HEALTH WORKERS, INCLUDING TIME PERIOD AND CIRCUMSTANCES

But after today's WHO press conference, we were left with the distinct impression that it's almost as if China doesn't...want the team to come.

Why else would they have waited to reveal the figures about all the sick doctors and health-care workers until Friday morning in the US and Europe? Just a thought.

Back in the US, a team of American expertss is prepared to travel to China to investigate the outbreak on a moments notice, should they ever receive clearance from a government official, according to Secretary Azar.

As he said (and we noted) earlier, the US is bracing for the possibility that the warm weather doesn't kill the virus, as President Trump expects.

Anyway, moving away from China, we've seen unconfirmed reports of four patients in St. Petersburg escaping a COVID-19 quarantine. Earlier in the week, two women escaped quarantines in Siberia.

* * *

Update (1000ET): China is turning the quarantine nob up to '11'.

After imposing strict lockdown conditions on nearly a third of the country, Beijing's is kicking off its shift to 'wartime measures' by adopting even more strikingly draconian measures on the residents of its capital city.

From Feb. 14 on, all people returning to the city will be advised to quarantine for 14 days.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that hundreds of conference atendees in London have been contacted by health officials after one of them was later diagnosed with the virus. 

The person, who has not been identified, attended the UK Bus Summit at the QEII Conference Centre last week. Two Labour MPs who attended the conference said they're cancelling public events until Feb. 20, just in case.

So far, nine people in the UK have been confirmed to have the virus.

* * *

Update (0915ET): Japan has reported 4 new cases of the virus, including one man who recently returned from the US state of Hawaii, and another who helped transfer an infected patient diagnosed aboard "the Diamond Princess", the cruise ship that has been quarantined in Yokohama for 10 days.

Meanwhile, over in the US, this interview of the director of the CDC warning that the virus could become widespread in the US 'beyond 2020'.

* * *

Update (0850ET): Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during an interview on Friday morning that more travel restrictions are "on the table," suggesting that the US might apply similar restrictions to Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and other Asian countries that have reported rising numbers of cases.

Earlier this month, the State Department raised its travel alert for China to '4', and the US imposed restrictions on foreigners who have recently traveled to China and re-routing Americans who have been to viral hotspots to certain US airports for screening on arrival. These travel restrictions have infuriated Beijing, and prompted a government spokesperson to accuse the US of spreading hysteria.

Even if the virus does "go away" in April, as President Trump has insisted...

...At this point, Q1 GDP is going to be a disaster anyway, so the US might as well kitchen-sink it.

And it's not like investors have anything to worry about - bad news is still good news, after all, and the market will simply go to pricing in ~1 Fed rate hike in 2020 to ~2.

* * *

Update (0810ET): Earlier this morning, Hong Kong confirmed three more coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of cases in the city to 56.

Here's more information on the new cases from SCMP:

  • The Centre for Health Protection said one of the three cases involved a man in critical condition after suffering shortness of breath for more than 10 days. He had to be intubated in Princess Margaret Hospital. He lives in Shek Lei Estate in Kwai Chung, and passed through the Lok Ma Chau border crossing on January 22.
  • Another person who tested positive for the virus, which causes the disease known as Covid-19, was the cousin of a previously infected case. Both attended a family gathering of 29 at a restaurant in North Point on January 26. At least six other members at that gathering have been infected with the new deadly virus, while at least two are still in quarantine pending test results.
  • The third case is a worker in a dim sum restaurant in Sheung Wan, whose husband visited their son in Xinhui, Guangdong province, from January 23 to January 28. Her husband and son are not infected.

Unlike most of the countries that have reported cases of the virus, both Singapore and Hong Kong have confirmed human-to-human transmission within their own borders, meaning the outbreak has already started to spread past the 2nd and 3rd generations of the infected.

Though Singapore is still ahead in terms of number of cases, Hong Kong is giving it a run for its month (though, as we've said before, it's an outbreak, not a race).

* * *

Following Chinese health officials' claim last night that it "double-counted" some deaths (while crematoriums in the country have been working 24/7 as the outbreak has worsened over the last few weeks), the good people at China's NHC have disclosed for the first time that 1,716 medical workers have been infected across the country.

Does this figure seem a little underwhelming? Officials put the infected medical worker total at 3.8% of 60k+ total cases on the mainland, and added that six medical workers - including the martyr Dr. Li - have died as of Friday. Of course, even if they're all wearing protective gear (which we know many aren't especially in the hardest hit areas like Hubei) this number would still seem low for such an infectious disease, given that more than 65,000 cases have been confirmed across the world.

One expert who spoke to the New York Times said the number of infected medical workers is "concerning."

“I think it’s quite concerning,” said Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong. “Healthcare workers face the challenge of caring for a substantial number of patients in Wuhan. It’s worrying to discover that a number of them have been infected.”

From what we've heard and read, it seems that shortages of supplies like facemasks, gloves, goggles and other protective gear have persisted, even in Hubei, according to the NYT. During the SARS outbreak, 961 medical workers were infected, representing some 18% of all infections. Since COVID-19 is even more contagious than SARS, we'd expect the number of medical workers infected to be even higher.

After expressing skepticism about Beijing's response to the virus earlier in the week, it looks like the WHO is back to shilling for the Communist Party, claiming overnight that the jump in cases in China shouldn’t be characterized as a "spike," and that it’s normal to change how cases are defined.

Across the mainland, the Chinese people, who have been frustrated by the government's dissembling, have come up with jokes like this one.

Given everything we've learned about the virus, and all the reports about shortages of medical supplies like facemasks across the country, but especially in Hubei Province, we suspect that the real number is much, much larger. It's just the latest evidence that Beijing hasn't given up on doctoring its disease stats, even after its big non-admission on Thursday that its methods for confirming virus-linked cases and deaths hadn't been sufficiently inclusive.

As we first pointed out yesterday, party officials said yesterday that the country would use "wartime measures" - a kind of public emergency declaration - to fight the virus, suggesting that the lockdowns will become even more widespread.

And as that happens, more scenes like these are playing out across the country.

In more immediately alarming news, Singapore reported nine new cases overnight, the largest daily increase yet in the city-state, which is now reporting a total of 67 cases, leaving it in third place after mainland China and the 'Diamond Princess' (cases quarantined off the ship are being counted separately from domestic Japanese cases).

Meanwhile, as the quest for a vaccine continues, Chinese state media is reporting that the China National Biotec Group has found virus-neutralizing antibodies in the plasma of recovered patients. Experiments have shown that these antibodies can help kill the virus, potentially speeding up the timeline for a successful vaccine.

The company said it had successfully prepared the plasma for clinical treatment after strict blood biological safety testing, virus inactivation and antiviral activity testing. The plasma had been used to treat 11 patients in critical condition, with significant results, it said.

Here's more on that from SCMP:

Clinical tests showed that, after 12 to 24 hours of treatment, the main inflammatory indicators in the laboratory decreased significantly, the proportion of lymphocytes increased, key indicators such as blood oxygen saturation and viral load improved, and clinical signs and symptoms improved significantly.

"The plasma product to treat the novel coronavirus is made from plasma loaded with antibodies donated by recovered patients. It went through virus inactivation and was tested against virus-neutralising antibodies and multiple pathogenic microorganisms," the company said, according to the report.

Following the scapegoating of two of the most senior party officials in Hubei, the province's new party boss, Ying Yong, held his first meeting on the outbreak with staff late Thursday, and immediately proceeded to lay down the law: He ordered officials to redouble their efforts to tighten quarantine controls in communities and neighborhoods across the province. This includes making sure that every individual suspected of infection must be quarantined.

In other news, China's zombie companies are breathing a sigh of relief after the Communist Party ordered the nation's banks to implement a loan default 'grace period' to ensure that China's mountain of bad debt doesn't come tumbling down like a house of cards.

Banks are told to tolerate higher bad loans and further raise tolerance for regions and industries hit hard by the virus

As the outbreak rages unabated and China struggles to get its economy back to work, the leadership in Beijing have continued to parrot the party line that the backlash for China's economy will remain minimal, with China's foreign secretary becoming the latest to assure the public that the economy will swiftly recover after a brief pullback.

President Xi said Friday that the country must improve its responses to major public health crises, and added that a new "biosecurity law" would soon be passed.

Finally, readers who enjoy a little dark humor (we suspect that's most of you) should get a kick out of this: Disneyland Hong Kong has agreed to let the city government use its land for quarantine space.