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Anger grows in China as deadly coronavirus cases increase

The global fatalities total stands at 722.


A Chinese mother sits with her daughter as they wear face masks before their departure at Bali airport, Indonesia (AP)

A Chinese mother sits with her daughter as they wear face masks before their departure at Bali airport, Indonesia (AP)

A Chinese mother sits with her daughter as they wear face masks before their departure at Bali airport, Indonesia (AP)

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus has risen again in China, with the death toll increasing to 722.

The ruling Communist Party has also faced anger and recriminations from the public over the death of a doctor who was threatened by police after trying to sound the alarm about the disease more than a month ago.

The Chinese government announced that another 3,399 people had been diagnosed over the last 24 hours, reversing two days of declines, and raising the total accumulated number of cases on the mainland to 34,546.

The US embassy in Beijing said a 60-year-old US citizen diagnosed with the virus died in Wuhan on Wednesday, apparently the first American fatality of the outbreak.

Japan China Outbreak
The cruise ship Diamond Princess is docked at Yokohama Port (Sadayuki Goto/Kyodo News via AP)

Japan’s foreign ministry said a Japanese citizen being treated in Wuhan had died of pneumonia and also was likely to have been infected with the virus.

Cruise ship passengers faced more woe as Japan reported three more cases for a total of 64 on one quarantined vessel and turned away another.

Meanwhile, France has confirmed five additional cases of the virus, including one child.

The announcement by health minister Agnes Buzyn brings the total number of people confirmed with the virus in the country to 11.

The new cases were identified in the Alpine resort town of Contamines-Montjoie near Mont Blanc. Ms Buzyn said they appear to be linked to a British person who stayed there in late January and was later confirmed to have the virus after returning to Britain.

French authorities are working with international partners to trace everyone who was in close contact with the British person and with the newly infected people in France.

The French government has brought hundreds of people from European and African countries back from Wuhan. Those who stayed in France are in quarantine.

Chinese president Xi Jinping spoke with his US counterpart Donald Trump on Friday and urged the US to “respond reasonably” to the outbreak, echoing complaints that some countries are overreacting by restricting Chinese travellers.

Following an online uproar over the government’s treatment of Dr Li Wenliang, the Communist Party struck a conciliatory note, saying it is sending a team to “fully investigate relevant issues raised by the public”.

Dr Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, contracted the virus while treating patients, and his death was confirmed early on Friday.

He was one of eight medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not. He had said that police forced him to sign a statement admitting he spread falsehoods.

US evacuees touch down
American evacuees from the coronavirus outbreak in China board a bus after arriving by flight to Eppley Airfield in Omaha (AP)

Even the staunchly pro-government Global Times newspaper said the treatment of Dr Li and other whistleblowers was “evidence of local authorities’ incompetence to tackle a contagious and deadly virus”.

The episode has raised long-standing complaints that party officials lie about or cover up disease outbreaks, chemical spills, dangerous consumer products or financial frauds.

Chinese citizens can be jailed on charges of rumour-mongering or making trouble.

Most of the deaths from the virus have been older people with existing health problems, but disease specialists said Dr Li’s work – with eye doctors sitting very close to their patients during examinations – may have subjected him to an extra large dose of the virus that made his illness more severe.

In Japan, three more cases were diagnosed Saturday among 3,700 passengers and crew on the quarantined Diamond Princess. Those aboard remain under 14-day quarantine.

China Outbreak
Medical workers move a man into the isolation ward at a hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province (AP)

Prime minister Shinzo Abe said foreign passengers on another ship, Holland America’s Westerdam, will not be allowed into Japan.

He said suspected virus patients were on board.

The ship, which has more than 2,000 people on board, was near Okinawa and was seeking another port, according to Overseas Travel Agency official Mie Matsubara.

“We are getting desperate,” she said. “We hope we can go somewhere so that passengers can land.”

Hong Kong began enforcing a 14-day quarantine for arrivals from mainland China on Saturday.

The former British colony has refused to completely seal its border but hopes the quarantine will dissuade travellers from the mainland.

American officials announced later that the government is prepared to spend up to 100 million dollars (£77 million) to help China and other countries fight the outbreak.

The US government also said it helped with the effort to deliver nearly 18 tonnes of medical supplies donated to the Chinese by the American people, including masks, gowns, gauze and respirators.

All but one the deaths in the outbreak have been in China.

China’s National Health Commission said about 6,101 of those being treated, or nearly 17%, are in serious condition. The vast majority of the infected are in China. Roughly 290 others are in about two dozen other countries, including Japan, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea.

The US has reported 12 cases.

Hundreds more Americans evacuated from the stricken zone in China began arriving Friday in the US, where they will be quarantined on military bases for two weeks.