Coronavirus Live Updates: Evacuated Americans Arrive Home; China Clamps Down on Negative News

In the early days of the new coronavirus, the Chinese public’s frustrations over how the Communist government was handling the problem were left largely uncensored online, and news outlets reported rigorously on the outbreak.

Those days may now be over.

There is a new crackdown on the media and on the internet, and it signals an effort to control the narrative about a crisis that has become a once-in-a-generation challenge for leaders in Beijing.

Nearly 500 people in China have died from the virus, health officials said on Wednesday, and thousands more are being infected every day, fueling fears that the virus’s spread is not being adequately controlled.

In the early days of the crisis, online vitriol was directed largely at the local authorities, said King-wa Fu, an associate professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.

But now, he said, more of the anger is being aimed at higher-level leadership — and there seems to be more of it over all. So the Chinese government has shifted its strategy for information control.

State-run news media and more commercially minded outlets have lately been told to focus on positive stories about virus relief efforts, according to three people at Chinese news organizations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal directives.

And internet platforms have removed several articles that suggest shortcomings in the Chinese government’s response or are otherwise negative about the outbreak. Local officials have also cracked down on what they call online “rumors” about the virus.

Hundreds of Americans who had been in Wuhan as the outbreak worsened arrived in California on Wednesday on two evacuation flights arranged by the United States government.

It was a second wave of American evacuations; an earlier flight arrived last week. The passengers were expected to spend days in quarantine on military bases under a strict and highly unusual protocol federal officials have put in place to slow the spread of the outbreak.

Among the passengers on the evacuation flights were two sisters and a niece of Guanettee Colebrooke, a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps instructor in suburban Washington.

“They feel so sad that there are so many people who are unable to be evacuated,” Ms. Colebrooke said. Her sisters, she said, who had been studying in Wuhan, made a simple calculation: “They were like, ‘If we can get out of here, let’s get out.’”

The evacuees were expected to be accommodated at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., and at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

Ningxi Xu, a 30-year-old asset manager from New Jersey, said she was thrilled to be among those able to get a seat out of Wuhan, though she was uncertain about what the days ahead in quarantine might hold.

“Do you know how the conditions at the Southern California quarantine site have been?” she asked. “Do you know or think they’d allow visitors while we’re in quarantine?”

The State Department said that it would stage one or two more evacuation flights from Wuhan on Thursday, but that it had no additional flights planned after that time.

Officials in Wisconsin confirmed that state’s first case of coronavirus on Wednesday. The patient, an adult who had recently returned from China, was said to be doing well and was being isolated at home.

After returning to the United States, the patient sought treatment in the emergency department of a hospital in Madison, but was not admitted. Hospital workers who came into contact with the patient were being monitored for potential symptoms.

There are now 12 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States. The Wisconsin case is the first new confirmation reported since Sunday, when three new cases were announced in California.

“At this time, the risk of getting sick from 2019 novel coronavirus in Wisconsin is very low,” said Jeanne Ayers, the state health officer. “We are responding aggressively to the situation.”

Administration and health officials came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to brief lawmakers about how the government is responding to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I think they were appropriately observant of what the challenge is without being fear-mongering,” the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said as she left the briefing.

House members pressed the briefers on what the government was doing to contain the outbreak, asking whether additional funding was needed.

  • Updated Feb. 5, 2020

    • Where has the virus spread?
      You can track its movement with this map.
    • How is the United States being affected?
      There were 11 confirmed cases as of Wednesday. American citizens and permanent residents who fly to the United States from China are now subject to a two-week quarantine.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      Several countries, including the United States, have discouraged travel to China, and several airlines have canceled flights. Many travelers have been left in limbo while looking to change or cancel bookings.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands is the most important thing you can do.

The Department of Health and Human Services has notified lawmakers that it may need to transfer up to $136 million to help support the response, but it remains unclear how the money will be used and where the money would be transferred from.

“It raised all kinds of questions,” said Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “But from the people who briefed us, I think they’re on it, and I look forward to additional information.”

Other lawmakers sounded more skeptical.

“Bottom line: they aren’t taking this seriously enough,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said on Twitter after leaving the briefing. “Notably, no request for ANY emergency funding, which is a big mistake. Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff etc. And they need it now.”

This is from the first installment in a new series, “Inside the Outbreak,” that shows how individual people are coping with the epidemic.

His days are long, 12 hours crisscrossing the city and ferrying local residents to buy groceries, get medicine and go to the hospital. And the roads he travels are mostly empty with the city sealed off, public transportation shut down and private vehicles mostly banned in an effort to contain the coronavirus.

In his blue and white car, Zhang Lei is the rare sight on the streets of Wuhan.

During normal times, Mr. Zhang, 32, is a taxi driver in this Chinese city of 11 million at the epicenter of the outbreak. But after the local government abruptly locked down the city late last month, Mr. Zhang became one of the thousands of people who have volunteered to help ease transportation woes.

Mr. Zhang, who wears a powder blue protective suit, face mask and goggles when driving, is not permitted to transport residents suspected of having the virus. Ambulances are supposed to handle that. Most of his passengers are poor, older residents who don’t have children or whose families ares outside Wuhan and can’t come home because of the quarantine.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he says. “There is no one to take care of them.”

The free rides are arranged by neighborhood committees, which typically serve as a go-between for residents and the local government.

Mr. Zhang makes no effort to conceal the mixed motivations behind his altruism.

“Boredom!” he exclaimed on a recent afternoon, when asked why he decided to volunteer for the job, then quickly added: “Second, to serve the people. Everyone is cooped up at home all day, so I may as well do something to contribute to society.”

This is from the second installment in a new series, “Inside the Outbreak,” that shows how individual people are coping with the epidemic.

Hidden away in her cabin, Masako Ishida reckoned she did not face much risk from the coronavirus that was stalking her cruise ship, forcing an onboard quarantine of 3,700 passengers and crew members off the port city of Yokohama.

Ms. Ishida, 61, was trying to see the bright side as she faced two long weeks stuck inside the Diamond Princess. She had a window to gaze out of, unlike some passengers. Like her two traveling companions — her husband and her mother, both in their 80s — she was healthy.

But it’s not going to be easy.

The ship, which has 13 decks and in normal times offers entertainment like movies under the stars and live musical productions, arrived in Yokohama on Monday night and stayed at anchor for two days while the authorities decided what to do.

The quarantine has not always gone smoothly, especially at mealtimes. One day, breakfast, delivered by staff members in goggles and masks, didn’t arrive until almost 2 p.m. Then lunch came right on its heels.

Nevertheless, the crew members are “serving guests with a smile,” Ms. Ishida said. “That’s giving us some peace of mind.”

Another passenger, David Abel, a Briton, has tried to remain optimistic. He said he was looking forward to the free time.

“Most of my day will be spent writing and researching and so on,” he said, adding, “What my bar bill is going to be, goodness only knows.”

Separately, a cruise ship that left Hong Kong on Sunday, the World Dream, was turned around by the authorities in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on Wednesday, after three passengers on a previous trip were confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus.

The death toll from the monthlong coronavirus outbreak has continued to climb in China, rising to 490. New cases have surged by double-digit percentages in the past 11 days.

The new figures from China’s Health Commission on Wednesday showed that 65 people died on Tuesday and that 3,887 more people had been infected. So far, 24,324 people are known to have been infected.

Health experts say the death toll is likely to rise because of the large number of infections. The mortality rate of the coronavirus, about 2 percent so far, appears to be far lower than that of the SARS virus. which had a mortality rate of about 10 percent when it hit China in 2002-2003.

Experts warn they still lack enough data to say definitively how deadly the new coronavirus is. Many residents in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, believe the real death toll is much higher than the official tally. The health care system in Wuhan is so overwhelmed that many cases have not been diagnosed because of a shortage of testing kits.

On Tuesday, health officials released details of the deaths so far, saying that two-thirds of them were of men. More than 80 percent were over 60 years old, and they typically had pre-existing health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases or diabetes.

Hong Kong said that it will begin requiring people who arrive from mainland China to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s top official, has resisted demands from some lawmakers and medical workers to completely close off the border, calling it discriminatory and not in line with World Health Organization guidelines.

But Hong Kong has taken a series of measures, including closing all but three border crossings, that have resulted in a sharp drop in entries from the mainland.

Mrs. Lam said that Hong Kong now had 21 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including three that were transmitted locally.

One of the confirmed cases involved someone working at the Kowloon Commerce Center, a hub of multinational firms, according to an internal note sent to employees at the Bank of America, which has an office in one of the towers.

The building’s management office did not respond to a request for comment, and Bank of America declined to comment.

Separately, Taiwan said that beginning on Thursday it would temporarily suspend entry by Chinese citizens who live on the mainland. It previously announced that foreigners who had been to mainland China over the previous 14 days would not be allowed to enter Taiwan.

From Amy Qin, a China correspondent, and Elsie Chen, a researcher, on the ground in Wuhan:

We came prepared, bringing with us two bags full of masks, hand sanitizer, goggles and disinfectant wipes to protect us as we went around reporting in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak.

But after arriving last Friday, my colleague Elsie Chen and I quickly realized we had overlooked an important question: What do you eat when covering the coronavirus outbreak?

Since the government imposed a lockdown in this city of 11 million two weeks ago, most of the restaurants have been shut. Grocery stores are still open, and many residents have stockpiled food to cook at home. But back at our hotel, we didn’t even have a microwave, let alone a stovetop.

Exhausted from a long day of travel, we realized there was only one answer: instant noodles.

Two days and four bowls of sodium-packed instant noodles later, my stomach felt as if it had deteriorated into a churning sack of MSG, salt and dehydrated beef cubes.

Knowing it could be days or weeks before we were able to leave Wuhan, Elsie and I made an executive decision: It was time for an upgrade.

We went to one of the large supermarkets and bought a small electric cooktop, groceries and some basic utensils. Stir-fried tomato and egg, the most basic of Chinese dishes, has never tasted so good.

Of course, we couldn’t leave out the chili oil goddess, savior to Chinese students around the world when they’re missing a taste of home: Lao Gan Ma, or Old Godmother.

One of the world’s largest technology conferences, the annual MWC Barcelona, has been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, with companies beginning to pull out of the gadget showcase.

On Wednesday, LG Electronics, the South Korean electronics giant, said it would no longer attend the event, previously known as Mobile World Congress. It has been expected to draw more than 100,000 people from 198 countries and territories for the unveiling of new smartphones, tablets and other mobile technology.

MWC is one of the world’s most anticipated telecom conferences, and companies spend months preparing and huge amounts on flashy presentations and extravagant booths.

“This decision removes the risk of exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel,” LG Electronics said in a statement.

The company may not be the only one to pull out of the event.

Huawei, the Chinese tech company, said it was monitoring the situation. European employees may end up playing a larger role in the event rather than those from China, a spokesman said.

GSM Association, the wireless industry group organizing the event, said this week that there had been “minimal impact” thus far as a result of the coronavirus, but that it was taking several precautions.

Chinese scientists are reporting preliminary success with a new approach for treating patients with the coronavirus: an antiviral drug used for treating influenza and an anti-H.I.V. drug.

The researchers found that Arbidol, an antiviral drug used in Russia and China for treating influenza, could be combined with Darunavir, the anti-H.I.V. drug, for treating patients with the coronavirus, according to ChangJiang News, a state-backed newspaper in Wuhan.

The researchers did not say how many patients they had treated with the combination therapy, and it could be too soon to assess its effectiveness. The findings also have not been reviewed by outside experts.

With no proven cure in sight, the race is on to find a treatment for the coronavirus.

The Chinese authorities have turned to other types of treatments as well. In its treatment plan for the coronavirus released last week, the National Health Commission of China listed traditional Chinese medicine remedies to be used in conjunction with antiviral H.I.V. drugs.

Cathay Pacific is asking its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave in an emergency move as Hong Kong’s flagship carrier struggles with a financial blow from the coronavirus outbreak in China.

In recent days, the airline has cut nearly all flights to and from mainland China and has said it will pare back flights across its network as it faces its biggest emergency since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009.

“The situation now is just as grave,” Augustus Tang Kin-wing, the chief executive of the airline, said in a taped video recording.

The outbreak of the coronavirus has decimated large parts of the global travel network. Health experts have warned that the fast-moving virus could become a pandemic, and multinational companies have banned nonessential travel to China.

Cathay was already fighting for survival before the outbreak, besieged by the political turmoil that has gripped Hong Kong. Last summer, it found itself caught between Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters and the Chinese government as China demanded loyalty from businesses that depend on it for business. Cathay fired some employees for being openly supportive of the protesters.

It started with a stubborn cough, a visit to an urgent care facility and a test being sent off to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And then a 35-year-old resident of Snohomish County, Wash., was identified as the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States.

Hollianne Bruce, the lone epidemiologist assigned to the control of communicable diseases in the county’s public health office, jumped into action. Declining to wait for a C.D.C. team to arrive from Atlanta, she dialed up the patient, who had been taken to an isolation unit at a hospital.

Seeking to establish a rapport, Ms. Bruce told him she knew he was not feeling well. She apologized for the disturbance. But she impressed on him how he might help save lives by sharing where he had been in recent days and with whom he had come into contact.

“We don’t know a lot about this virus,” she told him. “We’d like to ask you some questions.”

The man, who had been taken to the hospital the night before in a covered gurney intended for Ebola patients, agreed to help. It would be the first of several conversations he would have with Ms. Bruce, some by phone, others over a walkie-talkie as she stood outside his sealed room.

Once, at his request, she bought him lunch at a nearby Panda Express.

The coronavirus may be a global health emergency, but containing it is a local responsibility.

Across the United States, where at least 12 more cases have since been confirmed, it is health officials at the county and municipal levels who are scrambling to isolate the sick, learn where they have been and monitor those who have come into contact with them.

Read more here on what the campaign in Snohomish to contain the outbreak.

As United States officials impose new restrictions on travelers from China, many people who have returned to the country in recent days have hunkered down in their homes to make sure they were not carrying or spreading the disease.

Some checked in regularly with local public health departments, taking their temperatures at regular intervals and having their food delivered. Others were simply choosing on their own to stay indoors, away from work, away from friends and, in some cases, away from everyone.

All were counting down the days since they left China, waiting anxiously to see if symptoms develop — and whether they can get back to normal lives.

“It’s pretty scary,” said a woman in Massachusetts whose husband and 18-month-old son have been holed up in the family’s basement since returning from China last week.

The woman, a medical researcher who asked not to be named, said her family’s self-imposed quarantine was a necessary step to protect others.

“If people are responsible people,” she said, “they are willing to do this.”

Where has the virus spread? You can track its movement with this map.

How is the United States being affected? There were 11 confirmed cases as of Tuesday. American citizens and permanent residents who fly to the United States from China are now subject to a two-week quarantine.

What if I’m traveling? Several countries, including the United States, have discouraged travel to China, and several airlines have canceled flights. Many travelers have been left in limbo while looking to change or cancel bookings.

How do I keep myself and others safe? Washing your hands is the most important thing you can do.

Reporting was contributed by Daniel Victor, Sui-Lee Wee, Yiwei Wang, Ben Dooley, Elaine Yu, Austin Ramzy, Alexandra Stevenson, Ezra Cheung, Jack Ewing, Neal E. Boudette, Lara Jakes, Julie Bosman, Miriam Jordan, Amy Harmon, Megan Specia, Geneva Abdul, Mitch Smith, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Farah Stockman, Vanessa Swales, Emily Cochraine, Elisabetta Povoledo and Raymond Zhong.