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China’s Hubei reports 103 new deaths on Feb 10 – Health Commission
11 February 2020, 1:15 AM

China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak, reported 2 097 new cases and 103 new deaths on February 10, the local health authority said on Tuesday.

The number of deaths rose to a new high but new cases fell almost 20% compared to the previous day.

The Hubei provincial health commission said the province now had confirmed a total of 31 728 cases with 974 deaths by the end of Monday, a fatality rate of 3.07%.

More than three-quarters of the deaths have been in the provincial capital Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated.

The commission said there were still a total of 16 687 suspected but unconfirmed cases in the province.

Ma Guoqiang, the Wuhan Communist Party secretary, said the city government would aim to test all remaining suspected cases by Tuesday, amid growing complaints that many patients had not yet been diagnosed or admitted for full-time treatment.

Countries rush to build diagnostic capacity as coronavirus spreads
10 February 2020, 11:54 PM

A week ago, only two laboratories in Africa could diagnose the novel coronavirus that originated in China and is rapidly spreading around the world.

As of Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) expected every nation in Africa to be able to diagnose the disease.

The rush reflects a global push for diagnostic capabilities, particularly in developing countries, in hopes of averting a global pandemic. But it is being slowed by a desperate need for virus samples necessary to validate the tests.

“Without vital diagnostic capacity, countries are in the dark as to how far and wide the virus has spread and who has coronavirus or another disease with similar symptoms,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva on Monday.

As of early Monday, there had been 40,235 confirmed cases reported in China and 909 deaths, as well as 319 cases in 24 other countries, including one death.

Most of the testing is being done by public health laboratories. But several companies including Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc, GenScript Biotech Corp and Co-Diagnostics Inc have developed tests and are taking steps to get them validated for clinical use.

Roche is distributing coronavirus tests developed by Tib Molbiol of Berlin for research use on some of its instruments while developing a test of its own. Abbott Laboratories also is working on a test.

WHO has activated a network of 15 referral laboratories that can support national efforts in confirming new cases, and has identified 168 labs globally with the technology to diagnose the virus.

Technicians must be trained to run the tests locally to avoid delays associated with having to send them to centralized labs.

On Tuesday, WHO is convening a two-day meeting of hundreds of researchers and manufacturers to address the outbreak.

Workload on labs is ‘extreme’

Researchers are also working to develop antibody tests that can tell whether someone has been exposed to the virus. They could help answer how broadly this virus has spread, and whether there are milder cases not being detected, Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergency program, told reporters.

China appears to have adequate stock of the materials needed to perform diagnostic tests, but there is a limited number of trained technicians who can run them. “The workload on those labs is extreme,” Ryan said.

Outside of China, manufacturers are quickly developing tests based on the genetic code of the virus. Those tests still need to be validated with actual virus samples, for which access has been challenging.

Live isolation of the virus allows a huge advance in diagnostics and potential advances in therapeutics and vaccine development, Ryan said.

GenScript, which has offices in New Jersey and Nanjing, China, has developed a test available to researchers. It cannot be used as a diagnostic until it has been tested in hundreds of virus samples.

“In China, we couldn’t get to the samples directly because we don’t have a lab that can handle the virus,” said Hong Li, a GenScript scientist.

The company has sent its test kits to Chinese health officials to assess their validity. “Because other companies in China are also doing that, we don’t know when it will be our turn,” said Eric Wang, GenScript’s head of marketing.

Utah-based Co-Diagnostics on Monday said it has started shipping its test, which is available for research purposes, to clients. Chief Scientific Officer Brent Satterfield said last week that the company has been struggling to find clinical virus samples to validate the test for use as a diagnostic.

Thermo Fisher developed its tests based on the genetic code of the virus, and ran computer models to validate it.

The company has been providing its test to countries and health ministries with access to virus samples, said Thermo Fisher executive Joshua Trotta. “They will evaluate our kits and make a determination of what is the best test to deploy.”

Meanwhile, Thermo Fisher is scaling up production as countries prepare for more cases. Demand is “growing every day,” Trotta said.

Oscars TV audience hits record low in ‘driverless’ ceremony
10 February 2020, 11:33 PM

The US television audience for the 2020 Oscars fell to an all-time low for a ceremony that brought big wins for South Korean satire “Parasite” but was criticized by reviewers as long and haphazard.

Viewership for Sunday’s show, broadcast on Walt Disney Co-owned ABC, dropped 20% from a year ago to an average audience of 23.6 million, according to Nielsen data released on Monday.

It was the worst TV audience ever for the highest honors in the movie industry and beat the previous record low of 26.5 million in 2018.

“Parasite” made history by becoming the first non-English language film to win best picture, beating box office favorites like “Joker” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Joaquin Phoenix and Brad Pitt were among the acting winners.

The show, which ran 3-1/2 hours, was held without a host for a second year and was slammed by reviewers for random moments, inconsistencies and a surprise but puzzling performance by rapper Eminem of a 17-year-old song.

“The 2020 Oscars bellowed out for a ringmaster to harness what soon became a lackluster circus,” wrote Dominic Patten at entertainment website Deadline.

The New York Times’ James Poniewozik called it a “driverless” ceremony, while Variety’s Caroline Framke said it was “frantic” but ultimately saved by the genuine emotion and joy over the “Parasite” win.

The Los Angeles Times bemoaned the inclusion of music and television stars, saying the telecast “struggled to entertain let alone find relevance in the art form it was honoring.”

Audiences for live award shows have been declining in recent years, but the Oscars ceremony was still the biggest draw of Sunday night on television. Nielsen said the Academy Awards also dominated conversations on social media, producing 20.6 million social interactions on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, up 16 % from 2019.

The average unit cost for a 30-second TV ad during Sunday’s ceremony ranged from $1,689,300 to $2,272,900, according to the research firm SQAD.

ABC owns broadcast rights for the Oscars through 2028.

Death toll from new coronavirus set to surpass SARS, as China’s fatalities above 700
8 February 2020, 5:52 AM

The new coronavirus epidemic in mainland China is almost certain to become more deadly than SARS on Saturday as the death toll passed 700, health experts warned of mask shortages and more cases were confirmed on a quarantined Japanese cruise ship.

The number of new infections in China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, rose on Friday from a day earlier, Chinese health officials said, reversing two days of declines and showing the difficulty of predicting the epidemic’s peak.

The death toll in mainland China jumped by 86 to 722, and is poised to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that jumped from animals to humans in China.

So far only two deaths have been reported outside mainland China – in Hong Kong and the Philippines – from about 332 cases in 27 countries and regions.

During the SARS outbreak between November 2002 and July 2003, 774 people died globally, while the number of reported cases was 8,098, suggesting a far lower transmission rate than the latest coronavirus, but a higher mortality rate.

After China recorded its first daily drop in the number of new infections on Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was too early say whether the outbreak had peaked.

The first cases in December were traced to a seafood market in the Hubei capital of Wuhan, where wildlife was sold illegally.

“It is hard to say how lethal this novel coronavirus infection is – that is, what proportion of people with infection will eventually die of the infection,” Professor Allen Cheng, an infectious diseases expert at Monash University in Melbourne, told Reuters.

“While the crude mortality appears to be around 2%, there are likely to be many people who have been infected that haven’t been tested … We probably won’t know the true case fatality for some time yet.”

Hubei officials on Saturday reported 81 new deaths, 67 of those in Wuhan, a city under virtual lock down.

Across mainland China, excluding the 2,050 people who had recovered and those who had died, the number of outstanding cases stood at 31,774.

Beijing’s communist leadership has sealed off cities, cancelled flights and closed factories to contain the epidemic, with ripple effects for global markets and businesses dependent on the world’s second-biggest economy.

WHO experts say they have not seen the same rapid increase in cases in provinces outside Hubei, or in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau that were badly hit by SARS.

Speaking in Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned earlier that “the numbers could go up again.”

FALSE NEGATIVES

Not all of the infected will test positive for the virus, warned Wang Chen, head of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.

“For patients who are really infected with the new type of coronavirus, the positive rate for tests is 30% to 50%,” Wang told state television in an interview that has gone viral on social media since its telecast on Wednesday.

“There are still many false negatives by collecting suspected cases of throat swabs. In other words, more than half of the people who are truly infected with the new coronavirus may be ‘negative’.”

Hubei has started to use computerized tomography (CT) scans for quicker and more accurate test results.

Memories of how China was slow to tell the world about the SARS outbreak were rekindled on Friday when a doctor who had tried to raise the alarm about the new coronavirus succumbed to the disease in a Wuhan hospital.

Ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, 34, was among eight people reprimanded by police in Wuhan for spreading “illegal and false” information after he shared details of the virus with colleagues.

Social media users called him a hero and shared a selfie of him lying on a hospital bed wearing an oxygen respirator and holding up his Chinese identification card. One image showed the message “farewell Li Wenliang” etched into snow on a riverbank.

There were signs that discussion of Li’s death was being censored. After briefly trending on Weibo, the topics “the Wuhan government owes doctor Li Wenliang an apology” and “we want free speech” yielded no search results.

LACK OF MASKS, GOWNS

The WHO chief warned of worldwide shortages of gowns, masks and other protective equipment.

“When supplies are short and demand is high, then there could be bad practices like hoarding in order to sell them at higher prices, and that’s why we ask for solidarity,” Tedros told a Geneva briefing.

Another three people on a cruise liner off Japan tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases from the ship to 64, Japan’s health ministry said on Saturday.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd on Friday banned “any guests holding a Chinese, Hong Kong or Macau passport, regardless of when they were there last” from boarding the company’s ships.

WHO emergency expert Mike Ryan said reports of Asians being shunned in the West over a perceived connection to coronavirus was “utterly and completely unacceptable and it needs to stop.”

Taiwan’s government said that starting from Monday it would suspend all direct passenger and freight shipping between the island and China. It had already decided to suspend most flights from Monday between Taiwan to China.

Hundreds of foreigners have been evacuated out of Wuhan over the past two weeks. A second evacuation plane to airlift Australians out of Wuhan was delayed after China did not give it clearance to land, Australian officials said on Saturday.

Global equity markets and government debt yields slumped on Friday, as growing concerns about the virus’ impact on global growth overshadowed a strong US jobs report.

Apple Inc, however, said it was working to reopen its China corporate offices and call centres next week, and was making preparations to reopen retail stores there.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said the United States was prepared to spend up to $100 million to assist China and support coronavirus efforts by the WHO.

The United States has sent nearly 17.8 tons of medical supplies to China, including masks, gowns and respirators, a State Department official said.

The WHO said out of $675 million it is seeking for its coronavirus response through April, it has received pledges of $110 million, $100 million of that from the Gates Foundation.

Japan confirms 3 more coronavirus cases on cruise liner; total now 64
8 February 2020, 5:00 AM

Another 3 people on a cruise liner off Japan have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases from the ship to 64, Japan’s Health Ministry said on Saturday.

Japan’s Health Minister on Friday said 41 people aboard the Diamond Princess had tested positive for coronavirus in addition to 20 previously identified cases, with those infected being moved to hospitals on land.

The liner was placed on a two-week quarantine on arriving at Yokohama on February 3.

Amid an epidemic that has already killed more than 700 in mainland China, Japan’s health ministry said on Saturday that some 279 of the 3,700 people on board the ship when it arrived had been tested for the virus.

More than 34,000 infections have now been reported in mainland China in an outbreak that originated in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.

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