Coronavirus Live Updates: Beijing Sets Stringent New Quarantine Rules

Chinese state-run television announced on its website on Friday evening that everyone returning to Beijing would be required to isolate themselves for 14 days.

Anyone who does not comply “shall be held accountable according to law,” according to a text of the order released by state television. The order was issued by a Communist Party “leading group” at the municipal level, not the national Communist Party.

It was the latest sign that China’s leaders were still struggling to set the right balance between restarting the economy and continuing to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the country’s top officials met and issued orders that included a mandate to help people to return to workplaces from their hometowns. Tens of millions had gone home to celebrate Lunar New Year holidays before the government acknowledged the seriousness of the epidemic. They have faced local government checkpoints on the way back to work and then lengthy quarantines upon their return to big cities.

But while national leaders may be worried that travel restrictions and quarantines may be preventing companies from finding enough workers to resume full production, that did not stop Beijing municipal leaders from further tightening controls on Friday evening in the city.

The policy may reduce the chances that people returning from the hinterlands could infect the country’s elite.

The new rules also require those returning to the city to give advance warning of their arrival to the authorities in their residential area. China maintained extensive controls on citizens’ movements under Mao, and some of the institutions and rules from that period have been re-emerging lately.

Even before Beijing issued its new rules, so-called neighborhood committees had been playing an increasingly assertive role across the country, including in Shanghai. They have been demanding that recent returnees isolate themselves for 14 days upon arrival, venturing out for little except food.

In the hospital where Yu Yajie works, nurses, doctors and other medical professionals fighting the new coronavirus have also been fighting dire shortages. They have used tape to patch up battered protective masks, repeatedly reused goggles meant for one-time use, and wrapped their shoes in plastic bags for lack of specialized coverings.

Ms. Yu is now lying at home, feverish and fearful that she has been infected with the virus. She and other employees at the hospital said a lack of effective protective wear had left medical workers like her vulnerable in Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the heart of the epidemic that has engulfed this region.

“There are risks — there simply aren’t enough resources,” Ms. Yu, an administrator at Wuhan Central Hospital, said in a brief telephone interview, adding that she was too weak to speak at length.

Chinese medical workers at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus epidemic are often becoming its victims, in part because of government missteps and logistical hurdles.

The strength — or vulnerability — of China’s medical workers could shape how well the Communist Party weathers its worst political crisis in years. Li Wenliang, a doctor, died from the coronavirus last week, after he had been punished by the police for warning friends of the outbreak. His death ignited a wave of fury in China, where he was lionized as a medical martyr to officials who put political control ahead of health.

International Olympic Committee officials on Friday said that the Summer Games in Tokyo would go on as planned, citing discussions with the World Health Organization.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

“Certainly the advice we have received externally from the W.H.O. is that there is no case for any contingency plans or canceling the games or moving the games,” John Coates, the head of an I.O.C. inspection team, told reporters. Asked if he was “100 percent confident” that the Games would take place, Mr. Coates said “Yes.”

A spokesman for the World Health Organization said in an emailed statement that the organization was not advising that large gatherings be canceled.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the head of the W.H.O.’s Health Emergencies Program, told reporters at a briefing on Friday that experts were monitoring the situation and no final guidance had been given on the matter.

“It’s not the role of W.H.O. to call off or not call off any event,” Mr. Ryan said, adding that the organization was offering technical advice about risk assessment and response measures. “It is the decision of hosting countries and the organizing agencies to make that decision.”

The Games are scheduled to take place between July 24 and Aug. 9 this summer in Japan, the country that has endured the largest number of coronavirus cases outside China — over 250, including 218 aboard a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama. On Thursday, Japanese authorities announced the country’s first death of a patient who had contracted the virus.

And on Friday, Japan’s health ministry announced that a local government official who earlier this week helped transfer patients with the coronavirus from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship had tested positive for the coronavirus.

More than 135 people aboard the cruise ship have tested positive for the virus, and most of the 3,400 anxious passengers and crew of the ship remain onboard in quarantine. More are getting sick — possibly infecting one another — and health officials have raised the possibility of prolonging the quarantine, now set to expire next Wednesday.

The government official, a man in his thirties, helped transfer infected patients from the cruise ship on Monday afternoon, the health ministry said in a statement. The transportation process took about 40 minutes and the man was wearing goggles and a mask.

The statement said the official had a fever the same night, and went to a hospital before being diagnosed on Friday. The announcement follows another on Wednesday from the health ministry who said another official had all been infected after helping to evaluate passengers and crew members for symptoms.

A senior health official in Wuhan, China, the center of the outbreak, has called on residents who have recovered from the coronavirus to donate blood plasma, believing their naturally produced antibodies could be used to treat patients who are still sick.

Dr. Zhang Dingyu, the director of the Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, made his appeal on Thursday after Chinese researchers said they believed that such antibody treatments could help people recover from the virus.

The search for a drug capable of treating or curing the virus has frustrated researchers, as rates of infection and deaths continue to mount.

The government is prescribing a combination of antiviral drugs and traditional Chinese medicine. But on Thursday, China National Biotec Group, a state-owned company under the Ministry of Health, said it had found that administering a round of human antibodies from the survivors to more than 10 critically ill patients caused inflammation levels to drop significantly after 12 to 24 hours of treatment.

The company called the use of plasma “the most effective method, which can significantly reduce the mortality of critically ill patients.”

Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, said the use of antibodies to treat the coronavirus was “a really good idea,” noting that it had been used before in influenza pandemics. But he cautioned that it needed to be proven in a controlled trial.

“It’s basically transferring immunity from a patient who has recovered to a patient still fighting the infection, and then helping them to recover,” he said.

Numbers continued to climb after the government changed the criteria by which it tracks confirmed cases. China on Friday reported 5,090 new coronavirus cases and 121 new deaths in the previous 24 hours.

The authorities said a total of 63,851 people had been infected by the coronavirus and at least 1,380 had been killed by the disease. Most of the cases occurred in Hubei Province, the center of the outbreak, which recorded 4,823 new cases and 116 deaths over the same period.

The tally in Hubei jumped most drastically on Thursday after the authorities changed the diagnostic criteria for counting new cases. The government now takes into account cases diagnosed in clinical settings, including the use of CT scans, and not just those confirmed with specialized testing kits.

Shell said the person infected was working at Pulau Bukom, a 600-acre island that is the location of the company’s largest wholly-owned oil refinery and a major petrochemical complex.

Shell declined to give detailed information about the worker, citing privacy concerns. It described him as a contractor, a category that can cover a range of occupations at oil facilities, from painters to highly-skilled engineers.

Shell said the worker was receiving medical attention, and that it had placed others who worked in the same area on leave. The company also said it had disinfected the work area as well as common areas. Shell had already been screening workers at Pulau Bukom and other Singapore sites for high temperature, the company said.

Shell said that operations at Pulau Bukom were “unimpacted.” The facility is a key hub of Shell’s Asia business, capable of processing up to 500,000 barrels a day of crude oil and also making transportation fuels as well as churning out chemicals that can then be exported elsewhere.

The economic repercussions of the coronavirus outbreak became more visible in Europe on Friday after Fiat Chrysler Automobiles shut down a factory in Serbia because of shortages of parts made in China.

Fiat said Friday that supply problems prompted it to move forward the dates of a planned shutdown at the plant in Kragujevac, Serbia, which produces Fiat 500 subcompact cars.

“We are in the process of securing future supply of those affected parts and production will be restarted later this month,” Fiat said in a statement. “We do not expect this change in scheduling to impact the total production forecasted for the month.”

The shutdown, apparently the first by a carmaker in Europe caused by coronavirus, will add to concerns that the outbreak could sap what little growth the Continent has been able to muster recently.

The German economy did not grow at all in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to official data published Friday, and the eurozone grew only 0.1 percent.

A Hong Kong clinic designated to treat suspected coronavirus cases suffered a second arson attack early Friday, officials said.

Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority said it “seriously condemned” the attack, against an outpatient clinic in the New Territories district of Tsuen Wan. A police spokeswoman said it had occurred overnight and left a door charred. The first attack, on Saturday afternoon, damaged an air-conditioner. No one was wounded in either attack.

The clinic is about four miles from an apartment building where dozens of residents were evacuated this week after two residents on different floors were found to be infected, raising fresh fears about how the virus spreads. (Officials said an unsealed pipe might be to blame.)

There were 56 confirmed cases in the city as of Friday. Fearing a wider outbreak, residents have been staging small-scale protests at several clinics assigned to treat people with mild symptoms of the virus. Late last month, the government shelved a plan to turn an unoccupied housing project into a quarantine facility after protesters set a fire in the lobby.

As public anger and anxiety mount, the Beijing-backed government has been accused by many residents of not doing enough to contain the spread of the virus, including the refusal to quickly order a complete shutdown of the border with mainland China. The authorities have gradually restricted arrivals from mainland China over the past few weeks.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said on Friday that her administration would do its best to repatriate more than 2,000 of the city’s residents stranded in Hubei province and aboard the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship quarantined off Japan’s coast.

The Hong Kong government has received more than 1,000 requests for help from over 300 cities across Hubei, including from Wuhan, Mrs. Lam said. Ten people from Hong Kong in the region were confirmed to have been infected.

Some 330 Hong Kong residents remain stuck on the cruise ship in Japan, and 11 of them were infected, officials said. The Hong Kong authorities are pressing their Japanese counterparts to consider allowing its citizens to be quarantined onshore and to get tested for the virus as soon as possible, said John Lee, the city’s security minister, on Friday.

The coronavirus has killed more than 1,300 and infected tens of thousands in China. Those are alarming statistics, but a much more common illness, influenza, kills about 400,000 every year, including 34,200 Americans last flu season and 61,099 the year before.

There remains deep uncertainty about the new coronavirus’s mortality rate, with the high-end estimate that it is up to 20 times that of the flu, but some estimates go as low as 0.16 percent for those affected outside of China’s overwhelmed Hubei Province. That’s about on par with the flu.

While the metrics of public health might put the flu alongside or even ahead of the new coronavirus for sheer deadliness, the mind has its own ways of measuring danger.

Experts used to believe that people gauged risk like actuaries, parsing out cost-benefit analyses every time a merging car came too close or local crime rates spiked. But a wave of psychological experiments in the 1980s upended this thinking.

Researchers instead found that people use a set of mental shortcuts for measuring danger. And they tend to do it unconsciously, meaning that instinct can play a large role.

The coronavirus, which has created a wave of fear, may be a case in point.

“This hits all the hot buttons that lead to heightened risk perception,” said Paul Slovic, a University of Oregon psychologist who helped pioneer modern risk psychology.

At least five people fled coronavirus quarantine across Russia, local news media reported on Friday, citing frustration, erratic and inconsistent government policies, and bad conditions in the hospitals where they were held.

Alla Ilyina, 32, a woman from St. Petersburg, had enough patience to stay for only one day at a hospital in Russia’s second-largest city. She detailed how she had broken a lock in her room and sneaked away while doctors were distracted by another patient.

“I am a reasonable person, if someone told me that there was a suspicion, if doctors didn’t tell me that I was healthy, if I had not done three tests in separate hospitals, I would sit there,” Ms. Ilyina told reporters in an interview, broadcast on Russian television. “I don’t want to infect my relatives or threaten anybody, but I just don’t understand why an absolutely healthy person should be held somewhere.”

Three more people escaped quarantine in the same hospital, reported on Friday.

In the city of Samara, Guzel Neder, 34, escaped through the window of another hospital. After staying in quarantine for four days, Mrs. Neder called a testing center and a specialist said if she hadn’t received a positive result within two hours, “then you should be fine.”

“My son already felt well, he didn’t have any fever symptoms, but doctors deliberately made us stay for longer, so that we wouldn’t leave, to ‘fulfill the order’ of isolating people, coming from China,” she said. She described conditions at the hospital, where doctors didn’t wear any protective gear.

Only two confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported in Russia so far. Hundreds of Russian and Chinese nationals have been quarantined across the country for the 14-day period, following recommendations from the World Health Organization.

Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Singapore, said on Friday that it was possible the city-state could fall into recession as the coronavirus spreads.

“I think the impact will be significant at least in the next couple of quarters,” said Mr. Lee, in a video posted on his Facebook page.

At Singapore Changi Airport, the number of flights has fallen by a third and travelers who have recently visited mainland China are not allowed to disembark.

“It’s a very intense outbreak,” said Mr. Lee, who visited the airport to show his support for the workers there. “It is already much more than SARS, and economies of the region are much more interlinked together.”

Singapore, whose economy is particularly sensitive to global fluctuations, has already seen a slowdown in growth. The economy is estimated to have expanded by 0.7 percent in 2019, compared to 3.1 percent the year before, according to government statistics.

“China particularly is a much bigger factor in the region and therefore I can’t say whether we’ll have a recession or not,” Mr. Lee added. “It’s possible, but definitely our economy will take a hit.”

Reporting and research was contributed by Keith Bradsher, Ivan Nechepurenko, Tariq Panja, Roni Rabin, Sui-Lee Wee, Choe Sang-Hun, Richard C. Paddock, Elaine Yu, Motoko Rich, Lin Qiqing, Karen Zraick, Amie Tsang, Amber Wang, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Yiwei Wang, Gillian Wong and Claire Fu.