Optimism Fades As Virus Deaths Jump To 724; 190K Under Observation; Drop In New Cases Reverses Higher

Summary:

  • Confirmed cases rise to just shy of 35K in China and 24 other countries, deaths surge by 86 to 722, set to surpass SARS total in hours; total number of people under observation jumps to an all time high of 189,660.
    • Suspected cases rose to 27,657 from 26,359 the day before, with 6,107 people in in serious/critical condition. Patients who have recovered jumped to 2,050,
  • 6,107 people are in serious/critical condition
  • Reporter says 'real' death toll could be closer to 20k
  • German scientists say coronavirus can survive for 9 days on surfaces
  • Chinese quarantine expanded to Guangzhou; 400 million now on lockdown
  • Singapore raises response level to Orange
  • Hong Kong confirms case No. 25
  • Death of Dr. Li stokes demands for more free speech in China

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Update (2000 ET): After two days of declines in the number of "new cases" reported by China's National Health Commission, and the latest number of total infected in China coming in below JPMorgan's daily estimate - no really, to JPM the number of daily new infections is just like the jobs report: it either beats or misses...

... Saturday, Feb 8 saw an unexpected reversal in the downward slope in new cases, and as the NHC reported moments ago, as of Feb 7, China has a total of 34,546 cases, (higher than JPMorgan's base case forecast of 34,224, shown below)...

... and an increase of 3,385 overnight, which ominously was the first rise in reported new cases in three days, suggesting any hopes that the pandemic had already peaked were just crushed.

Adding the 365 international cases, means that as of Saturday, there were a total of 34,911 global cases, resulting in 724 deaths - an increase of 86 on the day, the biggest one day rises since the pandemic started - and a mortality rate of 2.1%, which is where it has been stuck for the past ten days. At this rate of increase in officially reported (which is vastly different from the actual true number) cases, the coronavirus pandemic will claim more lives than SARS in under 24 hours.

Here one surprising observation: in the past two weeks what was initially an exponential curve in the number of new cases, has quietly shifted into a quadratic one, where the number of new cases is largely unchanged day after day, almost as if China wants to represent a higher number to preserve some credibility, but nowhere near as high as what it really is if the disease followed the traditional exponential progression.

Some other observations: the number of suspected cases rose to 27,657 from 26,359 the day before, with 6,107 people in in serious/critical condition.  And while a record 722 have died - just 50 shy of the SARS record in 2003 - the number of those who have recovered from the diseases is now 2,050, with 25 total countries reporting cases.

And speaking of reversals, there was another notable one in the number of people receiving medical attention in China, because after sliding dramatically and even shrinking today, on Saturday the number of people under observation once again jumped, rising to 3,615 after a drop of 309 the day before.

One final point about all of the above: China is notorious about manipulating all of its economic data, why on earth would it publish accurate pandemic data, especially when it has repeatedly refused the presence of foreign observes in its fight to contain the deadly virus. As such, readers can simply ignore all of the above Chinese "goalseeks" and even Bloomberg notes that "total deaths may be far higher, given reports of an overwhelmed health system in Hubei, central China."

Looking ahead, JPMorgan predicts that the epidemic will peak in 1.5 months, i.e., by mid-March, at which point the total infected people will grow to 85K.

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Update: (1500ET): When the dust has settled and the novel coronavirus has finally died out, we can't imagine how the World Health Organization will manage to revive its reputation.

After repeatedly defending China as a beacon of "transparency" and model for other emerging economies, the death of Dr. Li stands as a rebuke to WHO head Dr. Tedros, who has kowtowed to China at every turn.

Reuters reports that a cruise line has banned Chinese travelers. And Apple said it's hoping to open its offices in China on Feb. 10, while it has extended the closure of its retail stores to Feb. 13.

With markets closing in the red, Larry Kudlow took to Fox News to remind traders that the coronavirus outbreak is really China's problem, saying that the outbreak will likely hurt China's economy - bad.

The outpouring of rage of Dr. Li's death continued into the early hours of Saturday on the mainland, with the SCMP now reporting that it's fueling demands for free speech. For many, his death symbolized Beijing's missteps and repressive tendencies when dealing with the outbreak, as he was punished for being one of the first to warn about the outbreak.

"It is a very big crisis. China’s public opinion was divided, but this time a consensus has been formed. The public share the same attitude and harbour the sentiments of sympathy, suppression and grieving anger," Wuhan University law professor Qin Qianhong said.

"I am worried that the situation could explode, or become like when [former Communist Party general secretary] Hu Yaobang died or even more serious."

The death toll hasn't budged all day:

Amnesty International weighed in on Dr. Li's death, calling it a "tragic reminder" of how Beijing's "preoccupation with stability" inspired it to suppress vital information.

As Beijing cracks down on dissident speech, cities appear to be ramping up stuff like this - spraying disinfectant on every public surface.

Over the last two days, Beijing has made a big show of opening two new hospitals in Wuhan that were built in under two weeks. We've already reported how the hospitals look more like prisons with medical equipment. But come to find out that most of the hospitals are actually being run by their patients. Dr. Feigl-Ding, the Harvard epidemiologist who is one of many academics slammed as an alarmist for telling the truth, tweeted that nearly one-third of the patients in one hospital in Wuhan are also medical staff. There's a common trope to describe this: something about a lunatic and an asylum.

We wonder how many more doctors will need to die before the mainland really does 'import Hong Kong's sickness'?

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Update (1215ET): Here's the latest sign that the public outrage over China;' handling of the coronavirus outbreak might lead to a genuine 'crisis of confidence' in the regime.

SCMP reports that the death of Dr. Li is threatening to turn into a public confidence crisis for Beijing as it expands quarantine measures to more than 400 million Chinese, 3 provinces and 60+ cities.

Many are treating the doctor as a martyr. Across the country, mourners are paying tribute for his death. On Friday, dozens of mourners placed flowers and black-and-white photos of Li at the entrance to Wuhan Central Hospital where he worked and died.

"We have just been discharged but our boy didn’t make it," she said.

Li’s wife – who is expecting the couple’s second child in June – was staying with her own mother and the couple’s five-year-old son, the doctor’s mother said.

"[Li] is a brilliant person and he would always do his duties and never tell lies," she said.

Some have demanded that the Wuhan government apologize to his family.

Beijing’s "unusual decision" to send a team from the country’s top anti-corruption agency to Wuhan just hours after the death suggests the central government is desperately searching for a local scapegoat upon whom they can blame the doctor's death. The "issues of public concern relating to Li Wenliang” shows how seriously the government is taking the venting of public anger.

Yesterday, Beijing reportedly started rounding up all of the infected patients in Wuhan to move them into quarantine, with officials claiming that the public is now living in "war like" conditions.

"It is a very big crisis. China’s public opinion was divided, but this time a consensus has been formed. The public share the same attitude and harbour the sentiments of sympathy, suppression and grieving anger,” Wuhan University law professor Qin Qianhong said.

"I am worried that the situation could explode, or become like when [former Communist Party general secretary] Hu Yaobang died or even more serious."

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases has climbed above 31k.

Following initial 'confusion' about the circumstances surrounding Li's death, by 6 am on Saturday morning in Beijing, hashtags "Dr Li Wenliang has passed away" had 670 million views on Chinese social media. "Li Wenliang has passed away" had 230 million views, and "I want freedom of speech" had 2.86 million views on Weibo. Though these hashtags were quickly censored.

Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, was one of the eight whistleblowers who were "disciplined" by the police in early January for spreading dangerous "rumors" after he posted a message in a closed online WeChat group about a number of "SARS-like" cases at his hospital. He was soon infected from his patients.

As one reporter who has been assiduously sharing videos from the epicenter of the crisis in Wuhan reported, many in Wuhan have taken to shouting Dr. Li's name to other apartments as millions remain on lockdown.

Jennifer Zeng also shared a video showing 30,000 dead ducks who died as a result of neglect during the outbreak. We reported yesterday that millions of Chinese have been struggling to care for pets and animals who have been abandoned by the quarantine.

Hong Kong has also confirmed its 25th case as panic sets in.

She also reported that a more realistic death toll is closer to 20k.

And shared video of what's alleged to be one of the CCP's internet-monitoring stations.

As we've reported, dozens of airlines have suspended flights to and from China - much to Beijing's chagrin. But FlightRadar24 showed that while air traffic has fallen off significantly, there are still some flights leaving parts of the country where the virus is very active.

Meanwhile, as we reported earlier, the White House has asked American researchers to study the origins of the White House, the latest sign that the 'conspiracy theory' about the virus being a bioengineered weapon unwittingly unleashed on an unsuspecting population may have bred a handful of skeptics in high places.

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Update (1100ET): This is bad news for airlines, casinos and virtually every business (restaurants, bars any other business) in the nightlife or entertainment fields. A team of German scientists have determined that the coronavirus can survive for up to 9 days on a surface.

That's bad news, because it means the virus, which was recently discovered to have some genetic markers in common with HIV, is much more hardy than the common flu.

The researchers also commented on research from Chinese scientists who said the virus may have spread from bats to humans via the illegal trafficking of pangolins, one of the most heavily poached animals in the world (the species is beloved for its scales).

Though other scientists have questioned these connections, according to Reuters, the researchers, from Greifswald and Bochum, have published findings from their coronavirus research earlier than planned and said the pangolin poaching theory was plausible.

They also added that certain disinfectants help particularly well to make the viruses on surfaces harmless.

Now that another case has been confirmed, the total number of infected people in Germany rose to 13, almost all of those infected had never been to China, indicating that most were infected via human to human transmission.

As of Friday morning there were more than 31,000 registered diseases. The death toll rose to 636, Der Tagesspiegel reported. By comparison, the flu virus can barely survive for 24 hours, HIV can survive for six days.

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Guangzhou, the capital of China's southwestern Guangdong Province and the country's fifth largest city with nearly 15 million residents, has just joined the ranks of cities imposing a mandatory lockdown on all citizens, effectively trapping residents inside their homes, with only limited permission to venture into the outside world to buy essential supplies.

The decision means 3 provinces, 60 cities and 400 million people are now facing China's most-strict level of lockdown as Beijing struggles to contain the coronavirus outbreak as the virus has already spread to more than 2 dozen countries.

That's more than 400 million people forcibly locked inside their homes for 638 deaths? Just think about that: If there was ever a reason to believe that Beijing is lying about the numbers (and not just because Tencent accidentally leaked the real data), this is it.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Trump Administration has directed researchers to investigate the 'true origins' of the virus, as 'conspiracy theories' and misinformation spreads online. We can't help but wonder: What if the scientists discover something that the regime in Beijing doesn't want them to see?

Elsewhere, Singapore raised its national disease response level to Orange, the second-highest level and the same level from the SARS epidemic, according to the city-state's health ministry. It also confirmed three new coronavirus cases. While investigations are ongoing, none of the three appear to have a history of recent travel to China, suggesting they picked up the virus in Singapore.

'Orange' means the outbreak "is severe and spreads easily from person to person" but "has not spread widely in Singapore and is being contained," according to the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition color-coded framework. Singapore has never invoked its highest level, red, per BBG.

Foreigners are complaining that the new hospitals in Wuhan are merely 'quarantine centers' without any medical resources.

Yesterday, Beijing argued that the virus outbreak had 'peaked' as they cited a drop in the rate of new infections. However, others have suggested that the rate of new confirmed cases has more to do with Beijing's limited resources.

The WHO said during a press conference on Thursday that it's too early to claim that the outbreak has peaked, even as the outlook for the global economy falls off a cliff.