Two infections. Two different floors. Then a Hong Kong apartment building was evacuated.
Hong Kong officials evacuated some residents of an apartment building after two people living on different floors were found to be infected with the coronavirus, the authorities said early Tuesday.
Officials from the city’s Center for Health Protection said the decision to partially evacuate the building was made after the discovery of a leaky bathroom pipe in the apartment of a newly confirmed patient, a 62-year-old woman. She lives 10 ten floors below a resident who was earlier found to be infected.
Dr. Wong Ka-Hing, the health center’s director, said the government was investigating the possibility of environmental transmission in the building and called the evacuation a “precautionary measure.”
The initial report prompted comparisons to an incident in 2003 when 329 residents of a housing estate in Hong Kong became infected with SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. The virus was later found to have spread through defective piping. Forty-two of the infected residents died.
At a government-organized briefing on Tuesday, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the situation this time appeared to be different. But he said the authorities were not ruling out the possibility of airborne transmission of the virus.
Sixty-five more infections have been confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, raising the total number on board to 135, the ship’s captain told passengers on Monday.
At least 20 of the infection passengers are from the United States, according to a Princess Cruises spokesman. In all, 416 American passengers boarded the vessel, the Diamond Princess, at the start of the voyage according to the spokesman.
In a statement Sunday the cruise line detailed the countries of origin of what was then 66 infected passengers: 45 were Japanese, four were from Australia, three were from the Philippines, one was Canadian, one was from England, one was from Ukraine and 11 were from the United States.
The outbreak on the ship, which has been docked at the Yokohama port since Monday, is the largest outside China. About 3,700 people, including about 2,600 passengers and more than 1,000 crew members, are quarantined on the ship, with passengers largely confined to their cabins.
The Japanese authorities have tested a few hundred people for the coronavirus who were believed to be at particular risk, but as the number of cases has risen, some passengers have pressed for everyone on board to be screened.
A rare appearance by China’s leader, complete with face mask.
President Xi Jinping of China, the authoritarian leader who had been noticeably absent from public view since the coronavirus outbreak escalated into a crisis, toured several public places in Beijing on Monday afternoon. The appearances seemed aimed at countering criticism that Mr. Xi has been aloof amid rising public discontent with his government’s struggle to contain the crisis.
The last time Mr. Xi had appeared in public was at a meeting last week with Cambodia’s prime minister. Mr. Xi has yet to visit the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, 600 miles to the south in Hubei Province.
Chinese press reports said Mr. Xi traveled first to a neighborhood roughly five miles north of his residence near the Forbidden City and toured a local government office. He later visited a city hospital, where he took part in a video conference with officials and workers at a hospital in Wuhan.
Mr. Xi, wearing a powder blue surgical mask and a black suit, made no public remarks, at least according to initial reports. But state media said his visits demonstrated Mr. Xi’s central role in directing the response, as well as his empathy for the ordinary people it has affected most.
‘It’s like Europe in medieval times.’ China’s economy has been idled.
Workers stuck in their hometowns. Assembly lines that make General Motors cars and Apple iPhones standing silent.
More than two weeks after China locked down a major city to stop the outbreak, one of the world’s largest economies remains largely idle.
Much of the country was supposed to have reopened by now, but its empty streets, quiet factories and legions of inactive workers suggest that weeks or months could pass before this vital motor of global growth is humming again.
China has been hampered by both the outbreak and its own containment efforts, a process that has cut off workers from their jobs and factories from their raw materials.
The result is a slowdown that is already slashing traffic along the world’s shipping lines and leading to forecasts of a sharp fall in production of everything from cars to smartphones.
“It’s like Europe in medieval times,” said Joerg Wuttke, the president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, “where each city has its checks and crosschecks.”
A lot of epidemics seem to come out of China, leading some to point accusing fingers. President Trump’s trade czar, Peter Navarro, for one, once went so far as to describe the country as a “disease incubator,” and that was before the latest outbreak.
But those perceptions are outdated.
While some of the most serious outbreaks have been traced to Chinese origins, others associated with China may have started elsewhere.
Old stereotypes have also contributed to unfounded portrayals of China as a source of contagion, when in fact it has progressed further than many countries in eradicating scourges that can flourish in developing regions.
Still, China’s recent history of what are known as zoonotic infections — viruses, bacteria and parasites that spread between animals and humans — have raised questions about public-health practices in the world’s most populous country.
And while the Chinese government has strengthened disease detection and monitoring capabilities, its tendency to play down or even cover up mass outbreaks may play a role in their severity and scope.
As new cases emerged, Britain declared the virus an ‘imminent threat.’
Britain’s health secretary on Monday declared the coronavirus an “imminent threat” to public health and announced a series of measures to combat its spread even as four more cases were confirmed in the country.
The declaration will allow the health authorities to forcibly quarantine people, and designates one hospital and one conference center as isolation facilities.
So far, eight people in England have tested positive for the virus, according to a statement on Monday from Prof. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England.
The new cases in Britain are believed to be linked to cases in France and Spain, according to the French health authorities, which all connect to a group of British citizens staying in a chalet in the Alpine village of Les Contamines-Montjoie. At least five others who stayed in the chalet and are still in France have tested positive for the virus, according to French officials.
Ninety-seven people died from the coronavirus on Sunday, a new daily record since the virus was first detected in December, China’s National Health Commission said on Monday. The death toll is now 908 people, which surpasses the toll from the SARS epidemic of 2002-03, according to official data.
The number of confirmed infections in the country rose to 40,171, and 3,062 new cases were recorded in the preceding 24 hours, most of them in Hubei Province. A United States citizen died from the coronavirus in Wuhan, the provincial capital, American officials said on Saturday.
The SARS epidemic, which also began in China, killed 774 people worldwide. There have been only two confirmed deaths from the new coronavirus outside mainland China: one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.
Many doctors believe that deaths and infections from the current epidemic are undercounted in China because testing facilities are under severe strain.
China has finally allowed World Health Organization experts to visit.
A team of experts from the World Health Organization arrived in Beijing on Monday evening, nearly two weeks after the organization’s director general met with China’s leader and praised the country’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The team was led by Bruce Aylward, a Canadian doctor and epidemiologist who has overseen international campaigns to fight Ebola and polio.
Since W.H.O.’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, visited Beijing in January, the organization had tried to send a team, but the Chinese government balked. The delay raised questions about China’s sensitivity to accepting outside help in combating the epidemic.
In a series of posts on Twitter, Dr. Tedros said countries that have seen only a few cases with no direct connection to China could yet see a jump in new infections.
“We may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote.
He called on all countries to share information about the coronavirus “in real time” with the organization.
Can the virus spread through the air? Chinese officials differ.
Conflicting views on whether the coronavirus can be spread through the air underscore the confusion surrounding the outbreak.
Zeng Qun, the deputy head of Shanghai’s Civil Affairs Bureau, said at a news conference on Saturday that the virus could be spread that way, meaning it might be transmitted more easily — even if people are not in proximity — than previously thought.
But Shen Yinzhong, the medical director of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center, disputed that. He told The Paper, a Shanghai newspaper, that although the virus might spread through the air “in theory,” confirmation required further research.
The Chinese government and the World Health Organization have said that most infections occurred among people in close physical contact.
Experts have suggested that a related virus in 2003 that caused an outbreak of SARS could be spread through the air under some circumstances. An outbreak in Hong Kong occurred, experts said, when the wind carried the virus from an apartment complex in which several people were infected.
The outbreak is hurting trade and global businesses.
The China Development Forum, an annual economic policy conference that China has used to project an image as an economically open country, has been postponed indefinitely.
In past years, members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee and the governor of China’s central bank have used the event to seek more foreign investment for the country.
But this year, global companies are instead grappling with having a supply chain deeply embedded in China as the coronavirus spreads across the nation.
On Monday, Nissan of Japan said it would shut down its plant in Kyushu, Japan, for four days beginning later this week, “due to supply shortages of parts from China.” Other carmakers, like Fiat Chrysler in Italy and Hyundai in South Korea, have already warned that a lack of parts from China could force them to curtail production in their home markets.
Even trade shows further afield are taking a hit with companies like Amazon and Sony choosing to stay away from this month’s Mobile World Congress technology conference in Barcelona.
The organizers said new safety measures would be put in place, including prohibiting any visitors from Hubei Province in China from attending. And security officials will also take visitors’ body temperatures and check passports stamps in order to keep out anybody who visited China in the previous 14 days.
Prices are jumping in China as the outbreak disrupts supplies.
The coronavirus has helped push inflation to an eight-year high, the Chinese government said on Monday, adding to Beijing’s problems.
Consumer price inflation rose to 5.4 percent year on year in January, compared with a 4.5 percent rise in December. That is the highest level since November 2011, according to China’s statistics bureau.
The outbreak has disrupted China’s supply chains, making it difficult in many places to get products to market.
While nonfood related prices, including energy, rose slightly, food prices pushed inflation up. The price of pork, which has surged for months, has now more than doubled over the past year after an outbreak of African swine fever led to a shortage of pigs.
The latest inflation figures mark a new challenge for China’s central bank. The People’s Bank of China has opened the spigots to provide money to local governments that are trying to contain the outbreak.
The government has told banks to extend favorable terms to companies that have been closed by efforts to contain the outbreak.
Chinese officials have prevented protective gear factories from reopening.
Chinese efforts to stop the coronavirus outbreak have hit even those companies that make essential equipment for medical and emergency workers, gear that is in short supply in many parts of the country.
Officials in the city of Xiantao in Hubei Province notified companies making protective clothing and medical masks that they needed to produce the proper paperwork before they could reopen. Unless they can prove their products have been cleared for sale within China, the notice said, the factories cannot not open until Feb. 14.
The notice caused an uproar online.
Xiantao is a major industrial hub for what are known as nonwoven products. That includes the suits and gloves used by emergency workers to protect themselves during outbreaks. The area is especially important for making protective masks.
The notice said local officials made the move to ensure quality standards were upheld and to root out counterfeit gear makers. But officials relented after a public outcry. On Monday, the government said it approved 73 protective product manufacturers to resume operations, while others are being certified.
Reporting and research was contributed by Steven Lee Myers, Russell Goldman, Keith Bradsher, Ben Dooley, Motoko Rich, Sui-Lee Wee, Amber Wang, Alexandra Stevenson, Tiffany May, Megan Specia, Constant Méheut, Amie Tsang, Adam Satariano, Raphael Minder, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Yiwei Wang, Claire Fu, Amy Qin and Heather Murphy.