BEIJING (AP) – China on Thursday recorded a rebound in coronavirus cases in the country’s frigid northeast, as a team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived in Wuhan to investigate the origin of the pandemic.
Chinese authorities on Thursday reported the first death attributed to COVID-19 in months, bringing the total number of deaths to 4,635 among the 87,844 registered infections. The relatively low number of cases shows the effectiveness of strict confinement, tracing and quarantines, but they have also raised questions about tight government control over all information related to the outbreak.
Heilongjiang province, in the region traditionally known as Manchuria, confirmed 43 new cases, the majority in Suihua city, just outside the provincial capital Harbin, according to the National Health Commission. The northern province of Hebei, outside Beijing and which is the scene of the last serious outbreak in the country, registered 81 new infections in the second day in a row with more than 100 infections throughout the country. In addition, 14 other imported positives were found.
China has put more than 20 million people under varying degrees of confinement in Hebei, Beijing and elsewhere in hopes of curbing infections before the Lunar New Year holiday in February. The government has banned travel to and from several cities, asked the population not to travel during the holidays, delayed major political congresses and plans to let schools close a week earlier to reduce the risk of infection.
Also on Thursday, a team of 10 WHO experts arrived in Wuhan, the city where the virus was first detected in late 2019. The visit was approved by the government of President Xi Jinping after months of diplomatic disputes that sparked a unusual public complaint from the director of the United Nations agency.
The group will be in isolation for two weeks and will be tested for the virus, said CGTN, the English channel of state broadcaster CCTV.
Scientists suspect that the virus that has killed 1.9 million people worldwide jumped to humans from bats or other animals, likely in southwest China.
The team includes virologists and other experts from the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, Russia, the Netherlands, Qatar and Vietnam.
For its part, in Japan the expansion of the state of emergency came into force with which the authorities seek to curb the increase in infections, although the restrictions are not binding and many seemed to ignore requests to avoid non-essential displacements.
People continued to travel on crowded trains and buses in Osaka, Fukuoka and other areas of the seven nine prefectures affected by the restrictions. In Tokyo, where they have been in force for a week, the governor was concerned about the failure to comply with official recommendations.
The state of emergency decree, which affects areas where more than half of the country’s population lives, asks bars and restaurants to close at 8:00 p.m. to employers who allow 70% of their workforce to telecommute, and to residents of the affected areas who do not leave home except for vital issues. It is also recommended to reduce the capacity in sports competitions and other shows.
The infections and deaths caused by the coronavirus almost doubled in the last month to about 300,000 and 4,100, respectively. Tokyo alone confirmed 1,502 new cases on Thursday.
Indonesia began its campaign to immunize health workers and officials with the vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech. The Ministry of Health expects to inoculate more than 1.3 million health workers and 17.4 million officials in the first phase of the campaign, which aims to cover two-thirds of its 270 million inhabitants, 180 million people .