Chinese officials announced the total number of people infected by the Wuhan coronavirus now exceeds 20,000, with 427 fatalities reported worldwide. Officials reported 64 new deaths in China on Tuesday, making it the deadliest day of the epidemic so far.
The health commission of Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak, reported 2,345 new infections on Monday, with 1,242 of them in Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus was first reported.
The overall mortality rate for the virus was calculated at 2.1 percent, assuming the data coming from the Chinese government is accurate. However, the mortality rate in Hubei province is much higher at 3.1 percent, and it reached 4.9 percent in Wuhan itself. Most of the people killed by the virus were described as over 60 years of age and usually suffered from another health issue when they contracted the coronavirus.
The mortality rate from the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic remains much higher, but the Wuhan virus is much more contagious.
Doctors in Wuhan are scrambling to convert civilian structures into treatment centers, including a sports stadium converted into a temporary hospital with 3,400 beds. A new panic-built hospital with 1,000 beds was constructed in only ten days, with another panic-built 1,600-bed hospital due to open on Wednesday.
The Chinese government is resorting to some unusual measures to control the virus outbreak, including a swarm of drones deployed to monitor citizens who do not follow quarantine rules or observe proper safety measures. The drones are equipped with loudspeakers that can be used to chastise members of the public, which elderly residents of the outbreak zone apparently find weird and confusing.
“Yes Auntie, this drone is speaking to you. You shouldn’t walk about without wearing a mask. You’d better go home, and don’t forget to wash your hands,” a drone told one perplexed older woman in an encounter publicized by Chinese state media. The old woman did as the drone instructed her.
CNN on Tuesday told the story of Dr. Li Wenliang, a Wuhan ophthalmologist punished by the government for accurately warning friends and family in late December that the coronavirus was much more dangerous than authorities were willing to admit. Li was questioned by the police on charges of “rumor-mongering” and forced to sign a statement admitting to “unlawful acts.” He contracted the virus in January after treating an infected patient, at a time when the Chinese government was still insisting the virus could not be spread by human contact, and has been hospitalized ever since.
Efforts to control the Wuhan virus by restricting travel from China are gaining momentum, even as the World Health Organization struggles in vain to convince airline and tourism companies that travel bans are unnecessary.
Hong Kong protesters renewed their demands for a closed border after the first reported coronavirus fatality and first cases of indigenous transmission on their island. Macau on Tuesday ordered its fabled casinos to close for two weeks. Japan is keeping 3,700 passengers quarantined aboard a cruise ship while they are tested for the virus. Taiwan announced that beginning on Friday, foreigners who have visited mainland China in the past 14 days will be denied entry, with an exception for those living in Hong Kong or Macau.
Even Mexico is taking steps to prevent the spread of the Wuhan virus despite having no confirmed cases to date. Over the weekend, the Uber ride-sharing service suspended 240 user accounts in Mexico City to prevent the spread of the virus after learning a potentially infected individual used Uber after arriving from Los Angeles last month.
Chinese dictator Xi Jinping held a special meeting of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee on Monday and emerged to call for a more aggressive anti-virus strategy, making only his second public appearance since the crisis began.
Chinese state media quoted Xi describing the coronavirus epidemic as “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance,” calling on officials to obey orders from the central government without letting “bureaucratism and the practice of formalities for formalities’ sake” get in the way.
“Those who disobey the unified command or shirk off responsibilities will be punished,” he warned.
Xi’s more aggressive posture could be an effort to shore up his political standing in China as criticism mounts of his hands-off approach. Residents trapped in the quarantine zone are increasingly bold in accusing Xi of cowardice and prioritizing his political standing above effectively dealing with the crisis. Even his Monday emergency session was viewed with skepticism as a purely political exercise focused primarily on setting up scapegoats and fall guys – hence the lectures about punishment waiting for disobedient local officials and paralyzed bureaucrats.
“For a leader whose face and words decorate banners and signs across the country and feature in state media daily, the low-key approach during a time of national crisis seems out of character,” the UK Guardian observed wryly on Tuesday.