As the total number of people in mainland China infected by the new coronavirus surpasses those stricken by the 2002-3 SARS epidemic, Beijing has shut down schools indefinitely.
Nearly 6,000 cases have been confirmed in China (with thousands more suspected), while only 5,327 were stricken by SARS – though there were thousands more affected outside the country.
Beijing’s municipal government indefinitely postponed the reopening of universities, schools and kindergartens as a precaution against the deadly coronavirus.
The school holiday was already extended for two weeks until Feb. 17, but the start of the spring semester has now been put off indefinitely, the government said.
Similar measures are being taken all over the country after the Ministry of Education issued instructions on Monday to postpone the new semester, saying that a new start time should be decided by local education departments in coordination with the local Communist Party and government.
Concern – and boredom – mount for those trapped at the center of the coronavirus outbreak
“Schools of all kinds should strengthen the guidance for students’ study and life during the winter vacation, and require that they do not go out at home, do not party, do not organize and participate in concentrated activities,” the Ministry of Education said.
Leading international schools in the capital followed suit, with the French International School of Beijing telling parents it had received instructions “asking all students and school staff to remain confined to their homes in Beijing until further notice.”
The International School of Beijing said it did not expect to reopen on Feb. 17 and the campus would need to remain closed for a longer period.
“We expect that upon returning to Beijing all students and employees will need to complete a 14-day travel quarantine period before returning to school,” it said.
The Western Academy of Beijing issued similar instructions.
“Today we have received a new notice from the Beijing Municipal Education Commission (BMEC) announcing that the reopening of school campuses and start of regular school activities shall now be determined by them,” it told parents. “This means that our online learning will continue beyond February 17, the same as Chinese kindergartens, schools, and universities.”
Foreign evacuees from Wuhan, at the epicenter of the outbreak, started to arrive in their home countries or temporary screening areas where they will be monitored, including charter flights for Japanese and American citizens.
The World Health Organization said Tuesday that China had agreed to allow global health experts into the country and a top U.S. health official said he had offered to send a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to China to help with the coronavirus outbreak.
The death toll has risen to 132 in China, with more than 5,974 confirmed cases of infection as of Wednesday morning local time – a day-over-day increase of more than 1,000. Other countries in the region also are reporting more people infected – nearly all of them tourists from China.
The number of coronavirus cases in mainland China has now overtaken the total recorded during the 2002-3 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic, although the death toll remains much lower.
Official Chinese government statistics show 5,974 confirmed cases in mainland China, with more than 9,000 suspected cases, 132 deaths and 103 people cured. Adding in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and 15 other countries, the total of confirmed cases tops 6,000.
The SARS outbreak saw 5,327 people infected in mainland China and 349 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
But SARS also hit 1,755 people in Hong Kong and killed 299 people there, and spread to more than two dozen other countries. In total it is thought to have affected 8,096 people and killed 774, according to WHO data,
The data underlines just how quickly the latest coronavirus has spread and the problems involved in getting it under control, experts say, especially with many believing the true number of infected people in China could be significantly higher than the official data show.
SARS was also a form of coronavirus thought to have originated in bats and passed onto humans through another animal.
North Korea called the fight against the coronavirus a matter of “national existence” amid fears over what an outbreak would do to a country with a rudimentary health infrastructure and a malnourished population.
The United Arab Emirates has reported its four cases – the first in the Middle East – from one family traveling from Wuhan. Hong Kong and Australia both reported two new cases Wednesday.
Infections have also been confirmed in France, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Cambodia, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Canada and Sri Lanka.
India on Wednesday joined a growing list of countries to issue advisories against travel to China as the deadly coronavirus spreads. The Ministry of Health in a brief statement asked Indians to “refrain” from traveling to China in view of the spurt in coronavirus cases.
IndiGo, the country’s largest airline, also announced flight suspensions given the situation. It suspended its flight between Delhi and Chengdu from Feb. 1 to Feb. 20 and another flight from Bengaluru to Hong Kong. The airline said these are “temporary and precautionary” measures.
Authorities in India are in talks with the Chinese government to evacuate its citizens in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. Indian nationals in the region were asked to fill in an evacuation consent form which mandates that on return to India, they will undergo a 14-day quarantine. The form also asks for self-declaration of symptoms associated with coronavirus.
Four members of a Chinese family visiting the UAE have been infected with the coronavirus, the Emirati Ministry of Health said Wednesday.
Two more coronavirus cases have been reported in Australia, bringing to seven the number of people in the country confirmed as having the virus that originated in central China.
Brett Sutton, the chief health officer of Victoria state, told reporters Wednesday that one case involved a resident aged in his 60s who became unwell on Jan. 23 after traveling to Wuhan. He had since recovered.
Hours later, authorities in Queensland state said a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan, the city at the focus of the outbreak, was confirmed to have the virus. He was reported to be in stable condition in isolation at Gold Coast University Hospital.
Meanwhile, the Chinese women’s national soccer team was being held in quarantine at a Brisbane hotel, according to reports. A total of 32 people, including players and staff, traveled through Wuhan a week ago, Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young said.
(c) 2020, The Washington Post · Simon Denyer and David Crawshaw