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February 28, 2020

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City traces 63 contacts with patient from Iran as outside virus fears rise

THE Shanghai government said yesterday it has traced and quarantined 63 people who came into contact with a novel coronavirus patient who arrived in the city from Iran.

The patient, who has not been identified, was diagnosed in Zhongwei, a city in the northwestern region of Ningxia, some 2,000 kilometers away, on Wednesday.

Authorities said the patient arrived in Shanghai last Thursday after flying from Iran via Moscow. The patient, who was wearing a mask throughout the journey, then travelled to Zhongwei via Lanzhou City in Gansu Province by train.

By yesterday afternoon, the patient’s path in Shanghai had been verified and all areas involved had been disinfected, Zheng Jin, a spokeswoman for the Shanghai Heath Commission, said.

So far, 63 people in close contact with the person have been identified and placed in quarantine.

Shanghai Customs is strengthening prevention and control measures at local ports.

This is the first confirmed COVID-19 case imported from overseas, raising fears that China faces a fresh challenge — keeping the virus out, as the number of new cases outside China now exceeds those domestically.

China has locked down tens of millions of people in the outbreak’s epicenter, Hubei Province, and told millions more across the country to stay home.

Schools and tourist sites have been closed, with dozens of sporting, cultural and business events canceled in containing the outbreak, which has killed more than 2,700 people and infected some 78,000.

The World Health Organization has praised China’s efforts and the official number of new cases has been generally declining.

China is now exploring the possibility of adopting “targeted prevention and control measures” for people arriving from abroad, the foreign ministry said, while those landing in Beijing from countries hit by the epidemic will have to self-quarantine.

Hundreds of passengers from South Korea arriving in eastern China were put in isolation after people on two flights were discovered to have fever this week.

Fears were also growing about China’s own quarantine system after an infected woman from Hubei was found to have returned to Beijing while the province is under lockdown.

The justice ministry said the woman had been released from Wuhan women’s prison — where nearly 300 cases have been reported — and went to Beijing.

Authorities have launched an investigation.

China reported 433 new cases of coronavirus infections on Wednesday, the National Health Commission said yesterday, up from 406 on the previous day.

There is no cure for the virus that can lead to pneumonia, and according to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, a vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.

China is no longer the only hotspot for COVID-19. More than 40 countries and regions outside China have reported infections. On Wednesday, cases were detected for the first time in Brazil, Pakistan, Norway, Greece, Romania and Algeria.

Governments around the world ramped up measures to battle a looming global pandemic.

Australia initiated emergency measures, a day after United States President Donald Trump put his vice president, Mike Pence, in charge of the US response to the virus crisis.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country, which has 23 cases of the virus, was operating on the basis of a pandemic and hospitals were under orders to ensure enough medical supplies, personal protective equipment and staff.

“There is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus,” Morrison said in Canberra.

“As a result we have agreed today and initiated the coronavirus emergency response plan.”

French President Emmanuel Macron called the outbreak a “crisis, an epidemic that is on the way.”

Saudi Arabia yesterday banned pilgrims from visiting Islam’s holiest sites for the “umrah” pilgrimage, ahead of the hajj which starts in July, to try to contain the spread of the virus.

The kingdom — which hosts millions of pilgrims every year — said it was also suspending visas for tourists visiting from countries where the new virus is a “danger.”

In neighboring Iran, the health ministry reported seven new deaths over the past 24 hours, taking the overall toll to 26, the highest outside China.

Iran imposed domestic travel restrictions for confirmed or suspected cases and slapped curbs on visits to major Muslim pilgrimage sites, while its neighbors have shut their borders.

Meanwhile, Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar tested positive for the virus, the state-run daily IRAN reported.

Ebtekar is the first member of President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet to be infected.

Earlier, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee Mojtaba Zolnour announced in a video that he had also been infected.

State media also reported yesterday that Iranian cleric Hadi Khosroshahi had died from the coronavirus in Qom.

Khosroshahi was Iran’s ambassador to the Vatican following the 1979 revolution.

Several governments have also advised against travel to Italy — which has 400 cases and 12 deaths, and South Korea, which has almost 1,600 cases, the highest number outside China.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday the government will ask schools to close from March 2 until the end of the month.

Japan has more than 190 cases and is facing questions about the Olympic Games, due to begin in Tokyo on July 24.

Stocks sunk deeper into the red, oil prices fell and US Treasuries rallied into record territory as the global spread of the virus heightened fears of a pandemic.

Global markets have dropped for six straight days, wiping out over US$3.6 trillion in value.


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