Coronavirus Live Updates: Infections Exceed 900 and Reach Europe


The authorities on Friday greatly expanded a travel lockdown in central China to include 12 cities near the center of the outbreak, effectively penning in 35 million residents — nearly the population of Canada — in an effort to contain the dangerous coronavirus.

The virus has infected more than 900 people worldwide, according to government statistics.

The new travel limits — abruptly decreed ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s busiest travel season — were an extraordinary step that underlined the governing Communist Party’s deepening fears about the outbreak of a little-understood coronavirus.

Just one day after China restricted travel in and from the center of the outbreak, Wuhan, a city of 11 million and the capital of Hubei Province, and four nearby towns, the government announced plans to suspend public transportation services covering more than half the population of the province.

The rapidly expanding outbreak has overwhelmed the Chinese province’s hospitals and fueled fears of a global pandemic. Chinese health officials reported on Friday that there had been 26 deaths from the outbreak and more than 900 cases of the coronavirus, a sharp increase.

All the deaths reported so far have been in China. Most have been older patients, but included a 36-year-old man.

On Thursday morning, the authorities imposed a travel lockdown in Wuhan, and airlines canceled hundreds of flights to the city, leaving thousands of people stranded.

Later in the day, officials said they would also halt public transportation in the nearby cities of Huanggang, Ezhou, Zhijiang and Chibi, which are together home to more than nine million residents. By Friday, restrictions had been announced in eight other cities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday that a second case of the coronavirus had been confirmed in the United States: a woman in her 60s in Chicago who had recently traveled to Wuhan, China, the center of the outbreak.

The other case, a man in his 30s, was in Washington State.

The unidentified woman returned to Chicago on Jan. 13, officials said. She became ill days later. As of Friday, she was still hospitalized but was doing better. Officials at a news briefing declined to name the hospital.

The C.D.C. told reporters that 63 patients in 22 states were under investigation for the coronavirus; 11 have tested negative.

France became the first country in Europe to report the infections. Agnès Buzyn, the health minister, told reporters on Friday evening that the authorities had confirmed two cases in the country: a 48-year-old man who had been to Wuhan recently and returned to France on Wednesday, now in isolation at a Bordeaux hospital; and a man in Paris.

“We don’t have the history of this patient yet, but we know that his tests came back positive,” the minister said of the Paris patient. She said France reported the first European cases “because we were very quick in establishing the test and identifying the cases.”

Officials were watching for more cases: In the United States, a Texas A&M University student was being isolated at home on Thursday as health officials said they were examining whether he had the coronavirus infection.

The student had traveled from Wuhan, where the outbreak of the respiratory illness began, and health care providers determined that he met the criteria for coronavirus testing, health officials in Brazos County, Texas, said. They said they would promptly announce if testing confirmed the patient’s illness was a case of the coronavirus.

Federal officials have announced expanded screenings for the infection at major airports in the United States. In addition to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, airports in Atlanta and Chicago began examining passengers arriving from Wuhan for signs of illness.

On Chinese social media, people across the country expressed mounting mistrust and resentment of the authorities in Wuhan, whom they blamed for mishandling the outbreak.

Some users called for Wuhan leaders to be removed. Others mocked the failure of the Communist Party’s newspapers to treat the epidemic with front-page urgency. Most of those posts were quickly removed by censors.

On the Twitter-like platform Weibo, Li Haipeng, a former journalist, wrote: “What is happening in Wuhan is really outrageous. Can it be hollow to this extent, incompetent to this degree?”

His post was shared more than 41,000 times and received more than 5,000 comments. One commenter wrote, “I hope the central government can take over before dawn. It’s almost like anarchy.”

Another wrote, “Wuhan’s party secretary and governor cannot soothe the people’s anger.”

In another post, a woman whose profile said she worked at a Hubei hospital shared a photo of instant noodles, lamenting that it was the only food she was given after working late on the night before Lunar New Year — traditionally time for a large meal shared with family.

The post was shared more than 30,000 times, and received more than 25,000 comments. “The Wuhan government is not worthy of such good medical staff,” one person replied.

The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in the traditional Chinese calendar, and celebrations start on the eve, which this year falls on Friday. Chinese were expected to travel home in time to help wrap dumplings or fry sticky rice cakes for all-important reunion dinners with their extended families. At midnight, families around the country usually set off firecrackers and fireworks.

But these celebrations are set to be far more muted this year, particularly in Wuhan and other parts of Hubei Province where the authorities have imposed travel restrictions.

In Wuhan, people waited anxiously on Friday outside Hankou Hospital, one of the medical facilities designated to test for the coronavirus, as their relatives sought treatment inside.

Several said the Lunar New Year would pass without the usual celebrations or vacation travel. They and other residents said that the city was now also confronting food supply problems because so many shops and markets had closed, adding to the hardships caused by the city shutdown.

“We won’t have a new year celebration tonight. There’s no feeling for it, and no food,” Wu Qiang, a resident in his 50s who was waiting outside the hospital entrance for word about his son, told a New York Times correspondent.

Mr. Wu said he understood the need to close off the city, but added that city authorities should ensure that enough shops and markets were selling fresh food. He said his son had been sneezing, setting off alarm at home.

“I think he’s O.K., but now even an ordinary sneeze makes you worry,” Mr. Wu said. “You start to think every cough or sneeze might be the virus.”

Chen Yanming, 47, who said her father might have contracted the coronavirus, said she was melancholic and anxious as the Lunar New Year came. She said her father had suffered a high fever for a few days and was being treated in the hospital.

“Today should be the Chinese people’s happiest day,” she said, “but this sickness has destroyed that feeling.”

The official death toll from the mysterious coronavirus increased by more than a half-dozen in 24 hours, to 26, while the number of confirmed cases jumped by more than 200.

The majority of the deaths have occurred in Hubei Province, in central China, but two deaths have been confirmed outside the center of the outbreak.

Dr. Gauden Galea, the representative of the World Health Organization in Beijing, said in an interview on Friday that while much was uncertain, health officials were preparing for an outbreak that could last for months. He said that eventually thousands of people would most likely be infected, citing models produced by public health experts.

“My own office is gearing up for a number of months,” Dr. Galea said. “We do not expect it to disappear in a number of days.”

He said much would depend on the patterns of infection over the holiday travel season. He said there was little precedent for the travel restrictions imposed by the Chinese authorities but that public health experts were hopeful that they could help contain the virus, along with efforts to expand screening, promote the use of masks and isolate sick patients.

Still, he acknowledged, health officials were being forced to improvise. “Part is science and part is hope,” he said.

Dr. Galea, who visited Wuhan this week before the lockdown, defended how Chinese officials had handled the outbreak, saying they had been transparent in sharing data. He said the Chinese authorities faced a daunting challenge.

“With the number of cases,” he said, “one would expect health systems to be stretched.”

As Wuhan residents waited in long lines at hospitals to be checked for possible coronavirus infections, some residents complained they were not able to get the treatment they needed.

Xiao Shibing, 51, has had a fever for 15 days and finds it difficult to breathe. When he went to a hospital, he was not tested for the coronavirus, said his daughter, Xiao Hongxia. He was told he had a viral chest infection and was sent home.

Mr. Xiao’s family has continued to seek treatment, visiting other hospitals, but has been turned away by at least three because of a shortage of beds, his wife, Feng Xiu, said. “It is like kicking a ball from here to there,” she said.

Cai Pei, 41, said his wife began coughing and developed a fever three days ago. He wrote on Weibo that hospitals would not admit her, and he had difficulty finding masks and cold medicine in pharmacies.

They still do not know if she is infected with the coronavirus or some more common ailment.

“Sometimes I can only hide and cry, but I couldn’t tell her and had to reassure her that it is not the virus,” Mr. Cai said by phone. “It is very scary. If it’s real, we have a child and elderly parents at home. What if we all get sick?”

Hospitals and medical workers at the center of the outbreak in Wuhan made urgent appeals for supplies, as stocks of surgical masks and other equipment quickly flew off shelves.

The American and British governments on Friday urged travelers to avoid the city of Wuhan and the surrounding area amid growing signs that the outbreak of the coronavirus was worsening.

The American Embassy in Beijing advised travelers from the United States to avoid Hubei Province, where Wuhan is the capital. It said the State Department had already ordered nonemergency government personnel to leave the city. It further warned that the Chinese government might prevent travelers from arriving or leaving.

The State Department notice was a Level 4 advisory, the sternest warning the United States government issues regarding travel. Other Level 4 warnings issued by the State Department cover travel to Syria, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela and Yemen, among other places. The warning is a step up from Washington’s earlier cautions. Just a day before, the American government had been advising travelers to “exercise extreme caution” when traveling to the Wuhan area.

The British government, in a notice dated Thursday, similarly advised against all but essential travel to Wuhan. The warning came a day before the government’s Cobra committee was to meet in Downing Street to discuss the threat posed by coronavirus to Britain, according to local news reports.

Fourteen people in Britain were tested for the disease, and all came back negative, the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, announced on Friday. But checks on others were continuing.

Some British universities have also warned students considering traveling home to China that they could face quarantine on their return. The University of Chester had warned its Chinese students that if they return to their homeland, they would not be readmitted without a quarantine period, The Guardian reported.

In a statement on Friday, however, a spokeswoman for the university said in an email: “The University of Chester has a relatively small Chinese student cohort and they are being appropriately supported. All students have been advised they must not interrupt their studies to return to China at this point.”

Universities UK, which represents 136 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, said in an emailed statement on Friday: “U.K. universities have been monitoring the coronavirus situation as it unfolds and universities with students in affected areas are working to identify appropriate actions. Universities will continue to follow the latest FCO advice and to monitor the situation, which is evolving rapidly.”

Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, chairwoman of the public health committee for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said surgical masks are “the last line of defense.”

China’s propaganda machine has ramped into overdrive as the authorities fight the spread of the coronavirus, praising the sacrifices of responders and everyday people amid continued criticism online of the government’s efforts to address the disease.

Mainstream Chinese news outlets have covered the outbreak closely, though censorship prohibits them from taking a critical look, while official news media like CCTV and The People’s Daily newspaper have played it down. State news media issued herograms to the patriotic Chinese citizens who canceled their trips home to Wuhan and would spend the Lunar New Year holiday alone. It praised doctors heading off to Wuhan.

“People of Wuhan are making sacrifices,” Hu Xijin, the editor of The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid controlled by the Communist Party, wrote on Twitter. “No matter how all of this happened, I want to express my sympathy and salute to them.”

On what may be the most watched television show on earth, the Spring Festival Gala, the Chinese government on Friday cheered on Wuhan and praised the country’s leader, Xi Jinping.

Each year, on the eve of the Lunar New Year, the state broadcaster China Central Television shows the gala, a four-hour marathon of speeches, skits and song and dance, all conducted at a stately pace to accommodate a graying audience. Watching the gala while making dumplings — or falling asleep in front of it — is a tradition for many families across the country.

On Friday night’s broadcast, China’s propaganda minders addressed the coronavirus outbreak head on. During the first half of the broadcast, six prominent CCTV anchors stood onstage and praised the instructions of Mr. Xi and the Communist Party.

They showed images of doctors and nurses treating patients, of trucks of supplies festooned with banners that said, roughly translated, “Go, Wuhan!”

They cited the example of Wang Qiang, the Chinese tennis player who earlier on Friday upset Serena Williams in the Australian Open. “As long as we’re not afraid and dare to confront challenges,” said Hai Xia, a longtime CCTV anchor, “we will win.”

Then they declared that the fight against the coronavirus was open, transparent and a testament to the competence of the government. Ms. Hai cited “the most transparent information disclosure, the strong leadership of the party’s Central Committee, the efforts of the whole nation.”

By featuring the response on the gala, the government gave its message a broad platform. The anchors ended their presentation with their own cheer: “Go, Wuhan!”

Reporting was contributed by Chris Buckley, Javier Hernández, Vivian Wang, Austin Ramzy, Elaine Yu, Tiffany May, Carlos Tejada, Russell Goldman, Gillian Wong, Paulina Villegas, Steven Lee Myers, Denise Grady, Karen Zraick, Roni Caryn Rabin, Carl Zimmer, Rick Gladstone, Yonette Joseph, Bhadra Sharma, Alexandra Stevenson, Adam Nossiter and Aurelien Breeden. Research was contributed by Amber Wang, Albee Zhang, Claire Fu, Elsie Chen, Yiwei Wang and Zoe Mou.


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