Fall in new cases raises hope in virus outbreak in China

The number of new cases of the coronavirus in China dropped for a second straight day, health officials said Wednesday in a possible glimmer of hope amid the outbreak that has infected over 45,000 people worldwide and killed more than 1,100.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, promised tax cuts and other aid to the industry as the ruling Communist Party tries to limit the mounting damage to the economy. And in Japan, 39 new cases were confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined at Yokohama, bringing the total to 174 on the Diamond Princess. A look at the latest developments in the crisis, which started in December in the city of Wuhan:

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a worker cleans the floor of a temporary hospital with 1,100 beds converted from the Wuhan Sports Center in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. Without enough facilities to handle the number of cases of viral infection, Wuhan has been building prefabricated hospitals and converting a gym and other large spaces to house patients and try to isolate them from others. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP)

The number of new cases has trended down in the past week, raising hopes that the epidemic may be plateauing. China’s National Health Commission said 2,015 new cases had been tallied on Tuesday, the second straight daily decline and down from nearly 3,900 a week ago. Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the situation is still grim but “we have seen some positive changes.”

A man walks through a disinfectant spray in order to return home at a residential complex in northern China’s Tianjin Municipality Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. China’s daily death toll from a new virus topped 100 for the first time and pushed the total past 1,000 dead, authorities said Tuesday after leader Xi Jinping visited a health center to rally public morale amid little sign the contagion is abating. (Chinatopix Via AP) CHINA OUT

In Geneva, Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of emergencies for the World Health Organization, said “it’s way too early to try to predict the beginning of the end” of the outbreak in China. But he said it is reassuring that the number of daily cases appears to be stabilizing, mainly because of China’s huge public health operation, which has placed an unprecedented 60 million people under lockdown. 

In this Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a police officer operates a drone carrying a QR code placard near an expressway toll station in Shenzhen in southern China’s Guangdong Province. As a measure to help prevent and control novel coronavirus, an online register system for vehicles coming back to Shenzhen has been put into use since Feb. 8. To increase the efficiency, local police officers used drones to carry a QR code at the expressway exits for drivers to get registered with less contact with other people. (Lai Li/Xinhua via AP)

Where the new coronavirus has spread

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which cause the common cold. Others have evolved into more severe illnesses, such as SARS and MERS.

 LOCATIONFIRST REPORTEDCONFIRMED CASESDEATHS
AustraliaJanuary 25, 202014140
BelgiumFebruary 4, 2020110
CambodiaJanuary 26, 2020110
CanadaJanuary 26, 2020770
ChinaDecember 31, 201944,65344,6531,113
FinlandJanuary 30, 2020110
FranceJanuary 24, 202011110
GermanyJanuary 28, 202014140
Hong KongJanuary 23, 202050501
IndiaJanuary 30, 2020330
ItalyJanuary 31, 2020330
Japan*January 15, 20202032030
MacaoJanuary 22, 202010100
MalaysiaJanuary 25, 202018180
NepalJanuary 24, 2020110

 LOCATIONFIRST REPORTEDCONFIRMED CASESDEATHS
PhilippinesJanuary 30, 2020331
RussiaJanuary 31, 2020220
SingaporeJanuary 23, 202050500
South KoreaJanuary 20, 202028280
SpainFebruary 2, 2020220
Sri LankaJanuary 28, 2020110
SwedenJanuary 31, 2020110
TaiwanJanuary 21, 202018180
ThailandJanuary 13, 202033330
United Arab EmiratesJanuary 29, 2020880
United KingdomJanuary 31, 2020880
United StatesJanuary 21, 202013130
VietnamJanuary 24, 202015150

as of Feb. 12 at 6:18 a.m. Eastern; *174 of Japan’s reported cases were from a cruise ship docked in Japan.Graphic Phil Holm & Ken Moritsugu  Source: AP reports, National Health Commission of China

A doctor takes a swab from a woman to test for the COVID-19 virus at a fever clinic in Yinan county in eastern China’s Shandong province on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. China on Wednesday reported another drop in the number of new cases of a viral infection and 97 more deaths, pushing the total dead past 1,100 as postal services worldwide said delivery was being affected by the cancellation of many flights to China. (Chinatopix Via AP)
People pass by a poster about precautions against the illness COVID-19 on a street in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. China on Wednesday reported another drop in the number of new cases of a viral infection as the country remains largely closed down to prevent the spread of the disease. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The country’s National Health Commission said 2,015 new cases were counted on Tuesday, the second straight daily decline and down from nearly 3,900 a week ago. Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the situation is still grim but “we have seen some positive changes.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva that the numbers “must be interpreted with extreme caution,” adding: “This outbreak could still go in any direction.” At the same time, he noted that the number of other countries reporting cases — about two dozen — has not changed since Feb. 4.

All but one of the deaths recorded so far have been in China, as have more than 99% of all reported infections in the world.

“In principle at the moment, there’s no evidence out there that this virus is out there causing efficient community transmission in other countries,” Ryan said. “We have a window of opportunity to shut this virus down.”

MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

At the end of a two-day meeting aimed at speeding the development of new tests, drugs and vaccines for the new virus, WHO said scientists had agreed upon a set of global research priorities but warned it could still take considerable time before any licensed products might be available.

Security guards hold the curtain for a cyclist to past through a disinfectant spray in order to return home at a residential complex in northern China’s Tianjin Municipality Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. China’s daily death toll from a new virus topped 100 for the first time and pushed the total past 1,000 dead, authorities said Tuesday after leader Xi Jinping visited a health center to rally public morale amid little sign the contagion is abating. (Chinatopix Via AP) CHINA OUT

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

Chinese President Xi Jinping promised tax cuts and other aid to industry as the ruling Communist Party tries to limit the mounting damage to the economy.

The country is struggling to restart its economy after the annual Lunar New Year holiday was extended to try to keep people home and contain the virus. Traffic remained light in Beijing, and many people were still working at home.

Companies are facing increasing losses because of the closing of factories, offices, shops and other businesses in the most sweeping anti-disease measures ever imposed.

A large cluster of cases in Tianjin, a port city southeast of Beijing, has been traced to a department store, Chinese state media said. One-third of Tianjin’s 104 confirmed cases are in Baodi district, where the store is situated, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

A salesperson in the store’s home appliance section was the first diagnosed on Jan. 31, Xinhua said, and a series of cases followed. None of those infected had visited Wuhan recently, and with the exception of one married couple, they worked in different sections of the store and did not know one another.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker waves near a propaganda poster as patients arrive at a temporary hospital with 1100 beds converted from the Wuhan Sports Center in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Feb. 12, 2020. Without enough facilities to handle the number of cases of viral infection, Wuhan has been building prefabricated hospitals and converting a gym and other large spaces to house patients and try to isolate them from others. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP)

Meanwhile, organizers of the world’s biggest mobile technology fair — the annual Mobile World Congress show, set for Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona, Spain — canceled the event because of worries about the viral outbreak.

The decision came after dozens of tech companies and wireless carriers dropped out, including Nokia, Vodafone, Ericsson, Nokia, Sony, Amazon, Intel and LG. The extravaganza had been expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors from about 200 countries, including 5,000 to 6,000 from China.

Elsewhere around the world, DBS bank in Singapore cleared its office, telling 300 employees to work from home after it learned that an employee had been infected. The city-state has 50 confirmed cases. And a Formula One race in Shanghai in April was added to the list of canceled events.

CITIZEN JOURNALIST DISAPPEARS

A citizen journalist reporting on the epidemic in Wuhan has disappeared, activists said, becoming the second to vanish in recent days amid tightening controls on information in China.

Fang Bin, a seller of traditional Chinese clothing, stopped posting videos or responding to calls and messages on Sunday, activists Gao Fei and Hua Yong said, citing Fang’s friends. His phone was turned off Wednesday.

Fang had posted videos of Wuhan’s overcrowded hospitals, including bodies in a van waiting to be taken to a crematorium. The last video he posted was of a piece of paper reading, “All citizens resist, hand power back to the people.”

Another citizen journalist, Chen Qiushi, vanished on Friday. Non-sanctioned reporting on the outbreak by actitivists is challenging the Communist Party’s tightly policed monopoly on information on an unprecedented scale.

CRUISE SHIP WOES

Passengers aboard a cruise ship that has been barred from docking by four governments may finally set foot on land again.

Holland America Line said the MS Westerdam will arrive Thursday morning in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The ship has been turned away by the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and Thailand, though its operator said no cases of the disease have been confirmed among the more than 2,200 passengers and crew.

And in Japan, 39 new cases were confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined at Yokohama, bringing the total to 174 aboard the Diamond Princess.

TWO RUSSIANS FLEE QUARANTINE

Two Russian women who were kept in isolation for possible inflection by the virus say they escaped from Russian hospitals because of uncooperative doctors, poor conditions and fear they would become infected.

Both women were hospitalized after returning from Hainan, a tropical island in China popular with Russian tourists. One said she jumped out of a hospital window to escape her quarantine, while the other broke out by disabling an electronic lock.

Two cases of the virus have been reported in Russia.

NO EVIDENCE YET OF MOTHER-TO-FETUS SPREAD

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Lancet, Chinese scientists reported there is no evidence so far to suggest the virus can be passed from mother to child in the womb.

The study looked at nine women who all had the COVID-19 virus and gave birth via cesarean section in a hospital in Wuhan. Scientists examined samples from the newborns, including the amniotic fluid, cord blood and throat swabs, and they all tested negative for the virus. But the researched acknowledged the study was small.

To date, two cases of the virus have been confirmed in babies, including a newborn diagnosed just 36 hours after birth. It is unknown how the child was infected.

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Elaine Kurtenbach in Singapore, James Heintz in Moscow, Grant Peck in Bangkok, Kelvin Chan and Maria Cheng in London and Joe McDonald, Dake Kang, Yanan Wang and researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.