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Coronavirus: China admits ‘shortcomings and deficiencies’

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China’s top leadership has admitted “shortcomings and deficiencies” in the country’s response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

The Politburo Standing Committee said the national emergency management system had to improve.

A crackdown on wildlife markets, where the virus emerged, has been ordered.

By the end of Monday, more than 20,000 cases and 425 deaths had been reported in China – an increase of more than 3,000 confirmed cases in a single day.

On Monday alone, there had been 64 new deaths, China’s National Health Commission said – all in Hubei province, where the virus is believed to have originated.

The number of deaths in China, excluding Hong Kong, now exceeds the 349 killed on the mainland in the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) outbreak of 2002-03. But the mortality rate of the new virus is much lower than that of Sars, suggesting it is not as deadly.

There are more than 150 cases in other countries, with one death in the Philippines.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong confirmed its first death from the coronavirus. Broadcaster RTHK said the 39-year-old man, who suffered from an underlying illness, had visited Wuhan on 21 January.

The Centre for Health Protection said he had not visited any health care facilities, wet markets or seafood markets, according to the report.

The virus is thought to have originated from a wildlife market in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.

The new coronavirus causes severe acute respiratory infection and symptoms usually start with a fever, followed by a dry cough.

What has the Politburo said?

Reports of the standing committee meeting, chaired by President Xi Jinping, were carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

It said lessons had to be learned from what had been a “big test” of China’s governance system.

“In response to the shortcomings and deficiencies that were exposed responding to this epidemic, we must improve our national emergency management system and improve our abilities in handling urgent and dangerous tasks,” the report said.

One area to be tackled is the trade in illegal wildlife, which should be “resolutely banned”, while supervision of markets should be strengthened.

It is thought a market in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province was the source of the viral outbreak. On Monday, a study by a Chinese virologist said bats were the likely source.

Wuhan remains the “top priority” and additional medical staff will be sent there, the committee said.

It said officials should assume full responsibility for their duties in epidemic prevention, and that those who failed to perform them would be punished.

It has been revealed that two officials in the town of Huajiahe were removed from their posts after a teenager with cerebral palsy died when his father – and sole carer – was quarantined for suspected coronavirus.

What is happening on the ground?

Monday’s deaths, at 64, mark a new high for fatalities in a single day – topping the previous high of 57 on Sunday.

Wuhan has seen the speedy construction of two new hospitals, although they are not yet fully operational.

Provinces with populations larger than 300 million have been ordered to make the wearing of masks in public mandatory.

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But there is a shortfall in equipment and China’s foreign ministry on Monday issued a global appeal.

Spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “What China urgently needs at present are medical masks, protective suits and safety goggles.”

Some cities, including Shanghai, have extended the Lunar New Year holiday, with many schools still closed.

Hong Kong, which has 15 confirmed cases, has suspended 10 out of 13 border crossings with mainland China.

The mortality rate for the new coronavirus is about 2.1%, currently far lower than the 9.6% of SARS.

How are other countries responding?

The health ministers of the G7 group of nations – the US, Germany, Japan, UK, Canada, France and Italy – held a conference call on Monday.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said they had agreed to co-ordinate on travel regulations, viral research and co-operation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and China.

Many nations have evacuated their citizens from affected areas of China, often placing them in quarantine on arrival home.

The US has ordered the departure of all US personnel family members under the age of 21, and any US citizen who has been in Hubei province will be subject to 14 days’ quarantine.

Ms Hua said the US measures were “excessive” and contrary to WHO recommendations, accusing the US of “spreading fear”.

The WHO has warned that closing borders could even accelerate the spread of the virus, if travellers enter countries unofficially.

More than 20 countries have recorded confirmed cases.

The latest on travel restrictions:

  • Denying entry to all foreign visitors who have recently been to China: US, Australia, Singapore
  • Denying entry to foreigners travelling from mainland China: New Zealand, Israel. (Russia will also apply these restrictions, though not through Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport)
  • Denying entry to foreigners who have visited Hubei province: Japan, South Korea
  • Temporarily suspending all flights to mainland China: Egypt, Finland, Indonesia, the UK, Italy
  • Closing the border with China: Mongolia, Russia (partially)
  • The body that represents some of the world’s largest cruise ship operators, the Cruise Lines International Association, announced on Monday that passengers and crew members who had recently travelled to China would not be allowed to board vessels

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How deadly is the virus?

More than 75,000 people may have been infected in Wuhan, experts say.

But estimates by the University of Hong Kong suggest the total number of cases could be far higher than official figures.

A report on the early stages of the outbreak by the Lancet medical journal said most patients who died had pre-existing conditions.

The report found that, of the first 99 patients treated at the Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, 40 had a weak heart or damaged blood vessels. A further 12 had diabetes.

Most people infected are likely to fully recover – just as they would from a normal flu.

An expert at China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said that one week was sufficient for a recovery from mild coronavirus symptoms.

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