As we move into Saturday evening on the ground in Wuhan, it’s becoming increasingly obvious to the broader global community that China’s authoritarian government has failed to contain this viral outbreak.
Chinese authorities expanded the travel restrictions on Saturday to cover 56 million Chinese, Al Jazeera reports. At least 18 cities in central Hubei are now dealing with at least some level of travel restrictions.
In Wuhan, the situation looks grim. The number of confirmed cases is exploding: another 300 were announced on Saturday, while the death toll is steady at 41. Yesterday, videos flooded western social media (after being assiduously removed from Weibo and the rest of the Chinese Internet) purporting to show bodies piling up in hallways in Wuhan, with rumors that a doctor had succumbed to the virus.
Those rumors have now been confirmed: A doctor who worked at a hospital in Wuhan, China, where coronavirus patients are being treated died Saturday morning, according to the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, a two-year-old Chinese girl has become the youngest to be diagnosed with the virus.
As it has all week, the South China Morning Post has kept an up-to-date running total of the confirmed cases & deaths. As of 10 am ET on Saturday, the total number stood at exactly 1400.
A map of the various cases shows the spread, though even the most up-to-date maps by Western news agencies appear to already be out of date, including this one by BBG.
Though China has pledged transparency, some suspect that the true tally of cases within Wuhan is much higher. With the epidemic spiraling out of control, President Xi called a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, a group of China’s top leaders, to discuss a response to the virus. At the meeting, the Communist Party set up a group to manage the response to the virus. The group will comprise members of the Party’s Central Committee, while being directed by the Standing Committee. During the meeting, President Xi said various ethnic groups must work together to contain the spread of the deadly virus. Xi also ordered party authorities to ensure that there are enough medical supplies in Wuhan – the capital of Hubei province and a city of 11 million five times the size of London and bigger than any US city.
“Party committees and governments at different levels have to make proper plans to contain the virus under the guidance of the Central Committee,” he was quoted as saying.
China’s National Health Commission announced on Saturday a nationwide plan to identify suspected cases of the deadly virus on trains, airplanes and buses. Inspection stations will be set up and passengers with suspected pneumonia will be “immediately transported” to a medical center. In the city of Haikou, the authorities said they would set up a 14-day observation center for all tourists who came from Hubei. They will not be allowed to leave the hotels where they are staying. At least 450 additional military and medical personnel have been deployed in Hubei to help with the situation.
Following reports last night of a suspected case in Sydney, Australian authorities have confirmed the first case of the virus. Yesterday, several cases were also identified in France. But that’s not all: Malaysia has confirmed that three cases of the virus have been detected. Japan is now up to three cases, all Chinese nationals, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.
Following reports that the virus may have originated from people eating bats or rats, the party has ordered more inspections of agricultural products, and has temporarily banned the trade in wild animals. It has also shut down movie theaters, LNY-related events and other mass gatherings across the country, warning that people should avoid coming together en mass until the outbreak is contained.
Qinghai province in northwestern China confirmed its first case on Saturday, leaving Tibet as the only administrative area of China that remains virus-free.
In Wuhan, the horror stories are getting worse: One woman told the SCMP that her husband was turned away by several hospitals despite coughing up blood, a sign of very advanced pneumonia.
“I have nothing. No protective clothing, only a raincoat, and I am standing outside the hospital in the rain,” said the woman, who gave her name as Xiaoxi.
“I am desperate, I have lost count of time and days. I don’t know if we will both live to see the new year.”
The rapid rise in the number of cases doesn’t necessarily mean the outbreak is getting worse, according to a spokesman from the WHO. Instead, it could reflect better monitoring and intervention by government authorities. As far as determining the severity of the epidemic, it’s still too early to say.
“It’s still too early to draw conclusions about how severe the virus is because, at the beginning of any outbreak, you would focus more on the severe cases,” said Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the World Health Organization in Geneva.
Video from inside Wuhan, a city that has been nearly entirely sealed off from the outside world, the situation appears increasingly dire.
A lot of attention has been paid in the Western press about the effort to build a new, 1,000 bed hospital in Wuhan as the city’s current health-care infrastructure has been completely overwhelmed. They’re hoping to finish the building in under a week, an astonishing pace. State media reported Saturday that a second hospital will also be built.
Foreign governments including the US and Russia are hatching plans to air-lift their citizens out of Wuhan. This could include journalists covering the outbreak, meaning the flow of information out of the city could soon slow to a trickle. Meanwhile, scientists are scrambling to determine the virus’s infectious potential before victims start showing symptoms. If it’s confirmed that the virus spreads in this way, than that would make full containment virtually impossible.