The New York Times reports that, according to China’s state-run broadcaster, the country is planning a further “mass roundup” of anyone who has exhibited symptoms of the coronavirus that continues to wreak havoc in the country. Previously, such operations were limited to Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak. The paper describes how that process worked:
Confirmed patients with mild symptoms were put in large quarantine spaces. Suspected cases went to converted hotels and schools to be isolated. Close contacts of confirmed cases and patients with a fever who could have been infected were also put in separate facilities.
But the extreme policy has been carried out in chaotic fashion, often leaving sick people in poorly supplied and short-staffed makeshift medical facilities — which has contributed to the sense of civic and political crisis in China. On Thursday, the central government ousted two top officials in Hubei Province, the outbreak’s epicenter, amid loud public criticism that authorities had provided an ineffectual initial response to the crisis and suppressed critical information as it began.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million, has been on lockdown for weeks, as have some nearby cities, as the government struggles to contain the disease. The death toll currently stands at more than 1,300 people, with more than 60,000 confirmed cases of the illness — which was recently rebranded COVID-19 — around the world. Of those, the vast majority are in and around Wuhan (15 are in the U.S., where no one has died from the illness). Reports indicate that a large majority of coronavirus cases require little to no medical attention for the patient to recover. But that may mean the number of cases is greater than currently estimated. And the speed and methods with which the virus spreads are still not entirely known. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN the coronavirus could be spread by people who exhibit no symptoms.
In another alarming development, an 80-year-old woman in Japan who had not previously traveled to China has died from the illness, marking the first coronavirus death in that country and suggesting the illness is spreading within Japan.
On Thursday, the number of reported cases in China suddenly shot up by 15,000 in one day, but that was attributed to a change in diagnostic criteria, which likely reflects that China had been giving a low estimate of those affected for the past several weeks.
Mike Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization Health Emergencies Program, said at a news briefing that it “does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak.” But what that trajectory looks like right now is one of the many pressing questions that surround the disease and its spread.
Beyond the human cost, the virus has battered China’s supply chain to the rest of the world and threatens to do long-term damage to several industries, perhaps most acutely the travel business, though it is too early to say what the effects will be.