WHO wants to be reassuring despite a toll which rises to 2,000 dead

Coronavirus patients rest in a makeshift hospital in Wuhan, China's Hubei province, Monday, February 17.
Coronavirus patients rest in a makeshift hospital in Wuhan, China’s Hubei province, Monday, February 17. Xiao Yijiu / AP

The coronavirus epidemic passed a new symbolic milestone on Wednesday, February 19, with a new assessment in mainland China, which now reaches 2,004 dead, or in 24 hours a hundred new deaths. Among them was a hospital director who died on Tuesday in Wuhan, the birthplace of SARS-CoV-2. Elsewhere in the world, five deaths have been recorded so far (in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and France), but the epidemic continues to raise fears.

  • The rate of contamination decreases

The number of contaminations in mainland China reached 74,185 on Wednesday, 1,749 more than the previous day, the smallest increase in a month. Elsewhere in the world, around 900 infected people have been identified in around thirty countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is reassuring: outside of central Hubei province, epicenter of the epidemic, the disease “Affects a very small proportion of the population”, with a mortality rate of around 2%.

The past few weeks have seen multiple cancellations of business meetings (World Telecommunication Congress in Barcelona), sports competitions (F1 Grand Prix in Shanghai), and the suspension of countless air routes to China.

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Citing a study by the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention involving more than 72,000 people, WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that more than 80% of patients suffer from a mild form of the disease. Also according to this survey, up to 39 years of age, the mortality rate from Covid-19 remains very low, at 0.2%, then rises gradually with age.

For the past few weeks, China has de facto quarantined almost all of Hubei. Outside the province, only 56 new cases were identified on Wednesday in the last 24 hours. On February 4, there were still 890.

In a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke of “Visible progress” in the fight against the epidemic.

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  • 500 passengers must disembark from the “Diamond Princess”

The main source of contamination outside of China remains the Diamond Princess cruise liner, which was quarantined in early February near Tokyo with more than 3,700 passengers on board. The contagion now extends to 542 people, according to the latest report announced Tuesday by Japan – 88 cases more than the day before.

A passenger disembarks from the cruise ship
A passenger disembarks from the cruise ship “Diamond Princess” after two weeks of quarantine, in Yokohama, Japan, Tuesday, February 18. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

In theory, the quarantine period that started on February 5 ends on Wednesday. But without waiting, the United States has already repatriated their nationals to place them in quarantine in their country. And a Japanese official announced Tuesday that about 500 passengers will be leaving the liner on Wednesday after receiving negative test results for the new coronavirus.

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The director of the WHO, however, said on Monday that there was no need to suspend all cruises in the world, saying he was opposed to any “General measure” facing the coronavirus. “The measures must be proportionate to the situation, taken on the basis of evidence and elements of public health”said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, pointing out that ” No risk does not exist “.

The call comes as the operator of a US cruise ship, the Westerdam, seeks to trace some 1,200 travelers who were allowed to land in Cambodia last week despite fear of potential contamination. On Saturday, the virus was diagnosed in an 83-year-old American passenger. But dozens of other travelers, like her, have already left Cambodia, raising fears of a spread of the epidemic.

“If we have to stop all cruises in the world in case there is potential contact with a possible pathogen, where will we stop?” “said Dr Michael Ryan, WHO director of emergency.

The WHO had already declared against the brutal restriction of the trips, whereas the United States, Australia and New Zealand in particular prohibited the entry on their territory to the foreigners who recently went to China – of which obviously many Chinese. Russia announced on Tuesday that it is closing its borders to Chinese nationals.

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  • Exemption from punitive customs duties

Faced with the epidemic, Beijing announced Tuesday an exemption from punitive customs duties it imposed in the context of its trade war with Washington on certain American medical products. Equipment used to transfuse patients or measure blood pressure will therefore be exempt from March 2.

In Macau, the famous casinos will reopen Thursday after the authorities’ decision to end two weeks of closure.

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