Coronavirus: Everyone returning to Beijing must go into quarantine or be punished, China warns

State-run newspaper announces major step to halt spread of outbreak

Jon Sharman,Peter Stubley
Friday 14 February 2020 19:54 GMT
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China has threatened to punish anyone who returns to Beijing without entering quarantine for 14 days, as authorities stepped up efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The new measure was announced in the capital’s state-run newspaper, however it remains unclear how the regulation will be enforced or whether it applies to foreigners and people not normally resident in Beijing.

On Saturday morning, the National Health Commission said the death toll had risen to over 1,500 and the number of confirmed cases exceeded 65,000.

Authorities also revealed that 1,760 healthcare workers had been diagnosed with coronavirus and six had died since the start of the outbreak.

It came as the virus spread to Africa for the first time, with Egypt confirming on Friday the case of a foreigner who has been put into isolation in hospital.

Meanwhile in the UK, two Labour MPs announced they were cancelling public engagements and self-isolating at home after going to a Westminster conference which was attended by a person who later tested positive for the disease. Health officials have contacted more than 200 people who attended the event.

A worker on a North Sea oil platform off Sheltand was also placed in isolation while he is tested for suspected coronavirus.

Nine people in the UK has so far tested positive for the illness, with nearly 3,000 testing negative.

There were reports that a passenger who fell ill on a flight to Heathrow Airport on Friday may have had symptoms of coronavirus.

Outside mainland China there have been nearly 450 cases of coronavirus in two dozen countries and territories, including 218 on board a cruise liner quarantined in a Japanese port, and three deaths, in Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Chinese authorities have claimed that the spread of the virus is stabilising and on Friday night a senior official accused other countries of “overreacting”.

“The epidemic overall is under control,” said Wang Yi, a state councillor who also serves as China’s foreign minister. “This epidemic is truly sudden. It has brought a challenge to China and the world.”

Mr Yi urged the United States and other nations not to take unnecessary virus-response measures that could hamper trade, travel and tourism.

“Some countries have stepped up measures, including quarantine measures, which are reasonable and understandable, but for some countries they have overreacted, which has triggered unnecessary panic,” he said.

With half a billion people already hit by movement and travel restrictions, China’s president Xi Jinping warned leading officials last week that efforts to contain the virus had gone too far, and were threatening the economy.

In cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, a major business hub, streets and underground railways remain largely deserted. Many shops and restaurants empty or shut.

However the official statistics on the number of cases have provided no indication that the outbreak is peaking, according to Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney.

In the latest update, Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak, reported another 139 deaths and 2,420 cases had been confirmed on Friday, which would take the total number of deaths above 1,500.

Additional reporting by agencies

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