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Sunday, February 09, 2020

In Regard To The Coronavirus, How Unsafe Is Airplane Travel? Will Governments Level With Us?

I'm a fairly intrepid international traveller and I've never thought twice about pandemics when making my travel plans. Until this morning. This morning is when I called my friend Helen, who was putting out summer vacation together in the Dordogne region of France. First off, how cool does this look?

But I told Helen to hold up on reserving the house Sarlat we were planning on. I just got this awful feeling that this coronavirus is way more serious than the public is lead to believe and that by summer, air travel is going to be... well too risky, even just to Europe.

Today the Washington Post reported that both the number of infected people and the number of people dying keeps growing, primarily in Wuhan in central China.
The global death toll from the novel coronavirus reached more than 810 on Sunday, surpassing the 774 fatalities attributed to the outbreak of the SARS coronavirus in 2002 and 2003. Among the dead was the first American, a 60-year-old woman who died Thursday in Wuhan.
Although Wuhan and Hubei province remain ravaged by the disease, Chinese officials say the number of new cases outside Hubei is declining, in a reflection of strict quarantine measures taking effect nationwide.
A World Health Organization-led international team is planning to leave for China on Monday or Tuesday to conduct an investigation of the coronavirus.
Chinese authorities have labeled masks a “strategic resource,” and experts call for most protective masks to be reserved for medical workers amid global shortages.
Hong Kong expanded its quarantine orders to more than 160 people who arrived from the Chinese mainland. People who violate the quarantine face up to six months in jail.
As far as I can tell, infected people in China are being put into what amounts to storage facilities. Oh-- and the Chinese government aren't being very forthcoming about the disease. We don't really know much about anything and I don't trust any of the information China is releasing. The Post reported that "Even as infections overwhelm the afflicted province, the rest of China may be seeing the effects of strict quarantine measures, Chinese health officials said Sunday. In all parts of China excluding Hubei, the daily number of new infections dropped from nearly 900 on Feb. 3 to 509 on Saturday, the officials said." Is it true? I wouldn't count on it.

An international team of experts led by WHO will depart for China on Monday or Tuesday to investigate the outbreak, said the director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Medical experts say available data show the disease-- officially named “novel coronavirus pneumonia,” or NCP, by Chinese health officials on Saturday-- is much more contagious than SARS, but the probability of death for those infected is much lower.

Around the world, cases continue to tick up. The number of confirmed infections rose on Sunday to 70 onboard the cruise liner Diamond Princess, which has been anchored and quarantined off the coast of Japan. Only the sick are able to disembark.

One of the evacuees was Rebecca Frasure, her husband Kent Frasure, 42, told The Post by phone on Sunday from the quarantined ship in Yokohama. The couple from Forest Grove, Ore., had traveled to Disneyland in Hong Kong, Vietnam and other destinations before Japanese medical staff boarded the ship with thermometers. Rebecca Frasure, 35, tested positive for the virus on Thursday, her husband said, and was taken by ambulance to a hospital north of Tokyo.

“She is doing pretty good, no fever or cough,” he said, although symptoms can take as many as 14 days after exposure to appear. Frasure said his wife is being evaluated in a stripped-down contagious disease ward with just a bed, TV and calendar on the wall. Doctors step through a sealed antechamber to see her.

It is an alien experience for her, said Frasure, a technician at Intel. She does not speak Japanese and the physicians use electronic devices to translate confusing medical jargon. But Rebecca, who works for a health-care company, has WiFi and keeps in contact with him and family on FaceTime, he said.

The quarantine on the ship, meanwhile, has become claustrophobic. Frasure had a fever earlier, so he has been restricted to his suite. His Nintendo Switch and reporters calling him for comment help pass the time, he said. The ship captain periodically issues updates over a loudspeaker, but media reports often clue in the passengers before then.

“Usually we know what’s happening before it’s announced,” he said.

Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, urged calm as the city-state reported a spike in the number of cases to a total of 40 and raised its alert level. New cases were also reported in Germany and South Korea.

In Hong Kong, where grocery stores have been emptied as worried residents stock up on supplies, the number of cases rose by three to a total of 29 on Sunday. The city’s health authorities said tests for all 3,600 crew and passengers quarantined for the past four days on a cruise ship, the World Dream, came back negative and everyone aboard was released Sunday afternoon.

China faces a crucial test beginning Monday as laborers from across the country trickle back to work in major cities that have been effectively emptied and shut down since the Lunar New Year in late January.

Officials, concerned about another spike in infections, have tried to delay the return to work. Shanghai is asking companies to dissuade nonlocal employees from returning for several more weeks. In Shenzhen, the iPhone assembler Foxconn has told employees that work is suspended until further notice. Officials in cities ranging from Xian in the north to Tianjin on the east coast have warned travelers from other parts of China that they would be immediately quarantined upon their return.

In a sign that governments are still seeking to prolong closures, state media reported Sunday that the populous Hebei province surrounding Beijing would join a number of other major jurisdictions keeping schools closed until March 1 at the earliest.

At the heart of the epidemic in Wuhan, the situation remains dire.

Officials are rushing to transfer patients into three quarantine facilities with 4,000 beds to alleviate a severe shortage of space inside the city’s overwhelmed hospitals. Hotels and university dorms are being requisitioned and converted into spaces for “centralized quarantine” for patients showing symptoms.

Leishenshan, a second makeshift hospital with 1,600 beds, began accepting patients with severe symptoms beginning Saturday night, state media reported.

Wuhan officials had initially asked all but the most ill patients to stay home in recent weeks due to a shortage of hospital beds, but on Saturday Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, the leader of a central government response group, ordered local officials to “take in everyone that should be taken in” to newly established facilities to quarantine confirmed cases.

But risks remain inside medical facilities. Doctors from Wuhan’s Zhongnan Hospital reported that 41 percent of coronavirus patients at their hospital became infected while inside the hospital by other patients and medical staff. The doctors announced their findings in a paper published by the Journal of the American Medical Association on Friday.

At another hospital, the Wuhan Mental and Health Center, 50 patients and 30 medical staff were infected due to a lack of caution and protective gear, a doctor, Zhao Ping, told China Newsweek magazine.

Hubei deputy governor Cao Guangjing said Saturday that hospitals in the province had only 80 percent of the masks they required.

Two prominent incidents have become symbols for China’s tight grip on information and simmering tensions among its citizens unhappy with Beijing’s response to the virus.

Chen Qiushi, an attorney and citizen journalist, slipped into the Wuhan hot zone on Jan. 24 to interview citizens about the outbreak, The Post reported, garnering worldwide attention for the city of 11 million where little, if any, information has slipped through government censors.

Chen’s family and friends said this weekend he was forcibly detained in an undisclosed location.

Details of his disappearance emerged days after Li Wenliang, the “whistleblower doctor” considered the first to sound the alarm about the disease, died after contracting the virus in Wuhan.

Millions of Chinese tried to surge past censors by amplifying the social media hashtag #WeWantFreedomOfSpeech, and photos of him flooded the Internet as a digital rallying cry.

One month after patients began flooding into area hospitals, many increasingly sick and desperate households say they still cannot secure care and fear time is running out.

Li Lina, a resident in the Hanyang district, beat a gong and shrieked from her high-rise balcony this weekend to beg for help for her and her stricken mother holed up at home. A neighbor filmed her cries and uploaded it to the Internet, where it went viral.

Reached by telephone on Sunday, Li explained that her mother’s condition was steadily worsening but she has not been able to secure a hospital bed since Jan. 29, because city regulations allow only confirmed coronavirus patients to get spots.

Li was finally able to administer a nucleic acid test on Friday; the result returned positive for coronavirus but ambiguous. Doctors gave her mother a second exam and Li is waiting for the result to arrive Tuesday.

“I don’t even know if she’ll hold out that long,” Li said as she tended to her mother, who is too feeble to speak and communicates by ringing a bell. “I feel helpless. I can’t watch my mother die.”

A friend of mine who lives in Hong Kong told me that the city is better equipped than most places, because of previous hibernations in response to SARS and bird flu potential pandemics, to react by being careful without panicking. BUT the government has virtually no credibility. The consequence of that is the city's medics are on strike demanding a total shutdown of the Chinese border.

There were 7,000 medics on strike last week