Mainland China reports 38 new deaths by Wednesday morning, a rise from the previous day’s count, but new infections fall again to 119. Champions League and Europa League matches in Spain to be held behind closed doors
The coronavirus has evolved into two major types, with differing transmission rates and geographical distribution, according to a study published in the National Science Review on Tuesday.
A group of Chinese scientists analysed 103 coronavirus genomes and identified mutations in 149 sites across the strains.
They found that one type, which they called the L type, was more prevalent than the other, the S type, meaning it was more infectious. They also found that the L type had evolved from the S type, and that the L type was far more widespread before January 7 and in Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak.
Human actions soon after the outbreak was discovered in December may have changed the abundance of each type, the report said, citing the Chinese central and local governments’ drastic containment measures including lockdowns of cities, which it said may have curbed the spread of the L type.
The researchers said follow-up studies were needed to form a better understanding of the virus’ evolution and spread.
New cases down in South Korea, mainland China
South Korea on Wednesday confirmed 435 new cases of the coronavirus, down from 851 a day earlier, taking the country’s total infections to 5,621 – the world’s largest after China. It reported four new deaths as the country’s toll reached 32.
Mainland China’s new daily cases continued to drop as it reported 119 infections, but the day’s new reported deaths jumped to 38, from 31 a day earlier, bringing its total fatalities to 2,981.
China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said 115 of the new cases on the mainland were reported in Hubei province, the outbreak’s epicentre. The total number of infections in mainland China stood at 80,270, with 49,856 patients having recovered.
Transmission by faeces and urine recognised
The spread of infection through faeces and urine has been recognised as an additional mode of transmission in China’s latest coronavirus diagnosis and treatment plan.
Citing research in which traces of coronavirus were found in patients’ stool samples, the NHC’s plan added contact with and aerosolisation of contaminated faeces and urine as transmission modes. Aerosolisation refers to conversion into particles small enough to be carried in the air.
Chinese health authorities have said that respiratory droplets and close contact with infected people are the main ways the coronavirus is spread. The NHC added in its previous treatment plan that aerosol transmission was possible for those in a relatively closed environment for long periods.
Global mask and gown shortages
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that severe and mounting disruption to the global supply of protective equipment was leaving health care workers ill-equipped to fight the outbreak.
“Prices of surgical masks have increased six-fold, N95 respirators have more than tripled and gowns cost twice as much,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing on Tuesday. “Supplies can take months to deliver, market manipulation is widespread, and stocks are often sold to the highest bidder.”
The UN agency has estimated that manufacturing of protective equipment supplies needs to be increased by 40 per cent to meet rising global demand. It said 89 million medical masks, 76 million pairs of examination gloves and 1.6 million pairs of goggles were needed each month for the global response.
Measures to help South Korean economy
South Korea’s government also announced a stimulus package of 11.7 trillion won (US$9.8 billion) to cushion the impact of the largest outbreak of the coronavirus outside China, which has disrupted supply and sapped consumption.
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said the supplementary budget, subject to parliamentary approval, would channel money to the health system, child care and outdoor markets.
“As we understand that the economy is in a state of emergency, we are putting all our policy focus on minimising the economic fallout, especially for the vulnerable sectors, small to medium-sized businesses and self-employed people,” Hong told a press conference.
Spain’s first death, and decision on football matches
Postmortem results for a man who died in Valencia on February 13 have shown that he was killed by the coronavirus, representing Spain’s first fatality of the outbreak, a local health official said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the country’s health ministry announced on Twitter that several sporting events would be held behind closed doors, with fixtures expected to draw crowds from high-risk areas, such as northern Italy, to be played without spectators.
The decision affects football matches including the Champions League fixture between Valencia and Italy’s Atalanta on March 10, and the March 19 Europa League match between Getafe and Inter Milan. Several basketball fixtures will also be affected.
About 100 health workers in the northern Basque region have been isolated in their homes after coming into contact with people carrying the virus.
Authorities are monitoring two clusters of the infection, in Torrejon de Ardoz, near Madrid, and the Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Malaysia’s ‘extraordinary spreader’
Fourteen new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed by Malaysia on Wednesday, its largest one-day jump, taking the country’s total to 50.
The new cases and at least seven others confirmed on Tuesday were linked to the country’s 26th patient, a senior employee of the sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad and described by the health ministry’s director general as “an extraordinary spreader”.
The patient, who had visited Shanghai in mid-January but had a fever and sore throat in Malaysia on February 27, also had contact with government ministers last week as Malaysia faced days of political turmoil during which former leader Mahathir Mohamad resigned and new Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in.
Of the 50 cases in Malaysia, 22 have recovered.
Iraq reports first virus death
Iraq said a 70-year-old Muslim cleric died on Wednesday from the coronavirus, the first death from the outbreak in a country where 31 people have been infected. The preacher had been quarantined in the northeastern city of Sulaimaniyah before his death, a spokesman for the northern Kurdish autonomous region’s health authority said.
According to local sources, he had recently met Iraqis returning from neighbouring Iran, which has recorded the deadliest outbreak outside China.
Iraqi authorities have closed land borders with Iran and banned the entry of foreign nationals travelling from there and other badly affected countries. Schools, universities, cinemas, cafes and other public places in Iraq have been ordered to close until March 7 to further contain the outbreak, but many continue to operate normally.
The outbreak has fuelled panic among Iraqis who say the war-ravaged country’s health care system cannot handle the epidemic. Many hospitals are poorly equipped or in disrepair after successive waves of conflict. According to the WHO, there are fewer than 10 doctors for every 10,000 people.
Chinese citizens arrive in Lanzhou from Tehran
Meanwhile, 146 Chinese citizens who had been stranded in Iran arrived at Lanzhou’s airport on a chartered flight from Tehran on Wednesday afternoon, according to Gansu Daily. They will be kept under medical observation in the northwestern city for at least 14 days.
A person familiar with the arrangements said all of the passengers went through temperature checks and “no one has a fever, but we need to wait for further test results”.
As of Tuesday, Gansu province, where Lanzhou is located, had reported 91 coronavirus cases and two deaths.
Clean-up of Wuhan market nears completion
More than a dozen disinfectant workers were nearing completion of the clean-up of the market in the city of Wuhan, Hubei’s provincial capital, where some of the first coronavirus infections were reported in late December.
The cleaning of Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where wild animals were traded, is due to be completed by Thursday.
China-US military phone call covers coronavirus
Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe discussed the coronavirus with US Defence Secretary Mark Esper during a telephone call on Wednesday that also covered military matters, China’s defence ministry said.
Wei said the encouraging trend in China’s coronavirus containment was expanding, according to a statement posted on the Chinese ministry’s WeChat account.
Esper expressed a willingness to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in epidemic control and prevention.