Wuhan coronavirus update

Today, human transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus was confirmed in three instances outside of mainland China — in Japan, Germany, and Taiwan, per the Japan Times, Deutsche Welle, and Focus Taiwan, respectively. The latest official count of infections as reported by Chinese state media has risen to 5,517, though only 2.4 percent of those, or 131 people, are recorded as having died from the virus. As medical researcher David Ho noted to SupChina yesterday, this is not an especially high mortality rate.

Perhaps that is why the head of the WHO has “said there was no need to overreact and people should remain calm,” and advised against hastily evacuating foreign nationals from China, per the SCMP.

Nevertheless, alarm is high around the world, and many countries and companies are taking stricter action to prevent the spread of the virus.

  • “The U.S. State Department on Monday warned against visiting China and said Americans should not travel to the Hubei province,” per Reuters. The “U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is boosting staffing at 20 U.S. airports that have quarantine facilities,” according to the Washington Post.
  • Hong Kong is shutting down railway connections to the mainland, and Cathay Pacific is halving the number of flights between the city and mainland China, according to the Financial Times. Nearby Macau has also upped its containment measures, as authorities there reportedly searched dozens of hotels and deported 150 people, the RTHK reports.
  • Russia has closed some of its border crossings in its far east, per Reuters, while the Philippines has suspended visas for Chinese nationals, CNBC reports.
  • Kenya and Ethiopia both have suspected coronavirus cases now, raising alarm across the African continent, the SCMP reports. Africans in China, meanwhile, feel trapped — the AP reports that “more than 4,000 are estimated to be in Wuhan alone.”
  • Tech companies, including Facebook and South Korea’s LG, are restricting travel to China, The Verge reports.
  • Many major banks are telling employees who have visited China recently to self-quarantine and work from home, as a safety measure, according to Bloomberg (porous paywall).

“The epidemic is a devil. We will not let it hide,” Chinese leader Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 said today in remarks featured prominently by Xinhua (also in Chinese here — 疫情是魔鬼,我们不能让魔鬼藏匿 yìqíng shì móguǐ, wǒmen bùnéng ràng móguǐ cángnì).

Xi delegated the task of visiting Wuhan in person to Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng 李克强, which a report in the Wall Street Journal indicated has important political meaning:

The move turns a rare spotlight on Mr. Li, who was once seen as a potential force for liberalization until he was sidelined by Mr. Xi. The premier could now be remembered as the hero of the crisis, his legacy defined by images of his visit on Monday to Wuhan, the quarantined city where the epidemic first emerged.

If Beijing’s efforts to contain the virus fail, however, Mr. Xi could seek to insulate himself from public anger by making Mr. Li take the blame, tarnishing the premier’s reputation — even if Mr. Li is unlikely to face any formal penalty, political observers said…

“For Li, it’s the only time in seven or eight years that he’s been the man of the moment,” said Richard McGregor, an expert on Chinese politics at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “It’s a huge opportunity for him.”

More reports on the Wuhan outbreak:

—Lucas Niewenhuis