Coronavirus Live Updates: Disease Caused by Virus Is Deadlier Than the Flu

The head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the global mortality rate for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, was 3.4 percent.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s director general, said in a news conference in Geneva that Covid-19 is deadlier than the seasonal flu, but does not transmit as easily. “Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported Covid-19 cases have died,” said Dr. Tedros. “By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.”

The estimate most likely takes into account the growing number of infections being recorded outside China, mostly in South Korea, Iran and Italy.

“While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, Covid-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity,” meaning more people can be infected and some will suffer severe illnesses, said Dr. Tedros. The coronavirus does not transmit as efficiently as the flu but “causes more severe disease,” he added.

When the coronavirus crisis was concentrated in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new virus was first found, the W.H.O. said that the mortality rate of the disease ranged from 0.7 percent outside of Wuhan to as high as 4 percent inside the city. The organization also said that the epidemic would affect different countries in different ways.

Data from the Chinese government shows that the mortality rate in that country is about 3.7 percent, with most deaths reported in Wuhan and the surrounding province of Hubei.

Dr. Tedros added on Tuesday that the disease can be contained, but warned that “rising demand, hoarding and misuse” of medical supplies such as masks could compromise the world’s ability to fight the outbreak, and he recommended a 40 percent global increase in the production of such supplies.

As the new coronavirus epidemic rapidly travels around the world, the spread appears to be slowing in China.

The number of deaths from the coronavirus reported outside of China on Wednesday surpassed for the first time those reported within the country — the latest sign that the front line of the epidemic may be shifting elsewhere.

The Chinese government on Wednesday reported 38 more deaths from the virus, bringing the nationwide death toll to 2,981. At the same time, the number of new infections grew by 119 to 80,270 total, according to official figures. Most of the new infections and deaths were reported in Hubei Province, the central Chinese province at the center of the outbreak. Shanghai has reported only one new infection in the past six days.

Experts said the downward trend in official figures outside of Hubei is a strong indication that the draconian measures put in place by the government to contain the spread of the virus are working, at least for now. Those measures include strict quarantine and travel restrictions on broad swaths of the country as well as the closures of schools and workplaces.

“It’s very clear that the actions taken in China have almost brought to an end their first wave of infections,” said Professor Benjamin Cowling, an infectious disease expert at Hong Kong University.

The concern in China now, experts say, is what will happen once the country begins to normalize economic activity and people start going back to work and school. There are also worries about infected travelers coming back into the country and reintroducing the virus to recovered communities. Already, local governments are taking steps to quarantine people coming back into the country from certain countries abroad.

“The question is what will happen if there’s a second wave,” Mr. Cowling said, “because the kind of measures that China has implemented are not necessarily sustainable in the long term.”

The South Korean government scrambled on Wednesday to find hospital beds for thousands of people infected with the new coronavirus, as the country reported a higher number of new cases than China, the center of the outbreak.

South Korea reported 516 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infected patients to 5,328, including 32 deaths. By contrast, China, once the leading source of cases, recorded only 119 new cases.

Nearly 90 percent of the South Korean patients were residents of Daegu, a southeastern city, and nearby towns. In Daegu alone there were 4,006 patients, but more than half were still waiting for hospital beds. Most of the patients, the authorities said, showed only mild symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Heath officials on Wednesday began transporting patients to government, corporate and religious sites, where rooms were refitted to serve as temporary clinics. They also transported more serious patients to military and state-run hospitals in nearby cities and provinces.

“Daegu is in a very difficult situation,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in the city on Wednesday. Hundreds of newly commissioned military doctors and nurses were being flown into Daegu to help the disease-control operations, he said.

“We can win this war against Covid-19 when we all fight together,” he added.

South Korea has tested more than 130,000 people for the virus, as it has raced to find and isolate infected people. Across the country, the government is operating 48 drive-through testing centers, where people can be examined without getting out of their cars, in an effort to limit the chances of exposure to other people.

As his government declared an all-out campaign against what has become the biggest epidemic outbreak outside of China, President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday that he was canceling his trips to the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey, originally scheduled for later this month.

Mr. Moon apologized for shortages of face masks on Tuesday, as people formed long queues outside retail stores and pharmacies. He upbraided his cabinet ministers to be “more sensitive” to the public’s needs and to “not sit at your desks, but get out to the field.”

Vice President Mike Pence said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would lift all restrictions on testing for the coronavirus, and would release new guidelines to fast-track testing for people who fear they have the virus, even if they are displaying mild symptoms.

The guidelines “make it clear that any American can be tested, no restrictions, subject to doctor’s orders,” Mr. Pence told reporters at the White House. The federal government had promised to ramp up testing after drawing criticism for strictly limiting the tests in the first weeks of the outbreak.

“The estimates we’re getting from industry right now — by the end of this week, close to a million tests will be able to be performed,” the head of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Hahn, said at a White House briefing on Monday.

Some companies and public health officials cast doubt on the government’s assurances, saying in some cases that tests under development are still weeks from approval.

And even if a million test kits were available, public health laboratories say they would not be able to process nearly that many within a week. A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said on Monday that public health labs can test 15,000 people daily, though that figure is expected to grow.

Two people who died last week in the Seattle area were infected with coronavirus, officials said on Tuesday, suggesting that the virus had spread in that region days earlier than health officials had previously known.

That brought the death toll in Washington State, and in the United States, to nine. So far, those deaths have all been in the Seattle area.

The confirmation of additional deaths adds to an escalating emergency in a region that has rapidly emerged as a focal point for the virus in the United States, where there have now been at least 120 cases of coronavirus in more than a dozen states, as local health authorities from coast to coast raced to assess the risk to schools, medical centers and businesses.

The other deaths, all announced over the last few days, included residents of a nursing care facility in Kirkland, a Seattle suburb.

Also on Tuesday, Amazon emailed its staff in the Seattle area saying it learned that an employee in one of its many office buildings in the South Lake Union neighborhood tested positive for the virus. “The employee went home feeling unwell on Tuesday, February 25 and has not entered Amazon offices since that time,” the email said.

Health officials in North Carolina announced that state’s first case of coronavirus on Tuesday afternoon. They said the patient there had traveled to Washington and been “exposed at a long-term care facility” where there was an outbreak, an apparent reference to the Life Care nursing center in Kirkland, Wash.

The North Carolina patient was said to be doing well and isolated at home in Wake County.

Most every afternoon, one resident of Wuhan, China, ambles down the stairs beneath the city’s majestic Yangtze River Bridge, completes an elaborate warm-up of stretches, checks his watch and plunges headlong into China’s longest river.

Most residents rarely leave their homes in the locked-down city of 11 million people, where the coronavirus outbreak began. The rhythms of everyday life — work, school, shopping, commuting — have been suspended, but Lu Jianjun, 53, has persisted in his daily ritual.

“A healthy body is an asset for the revolution,” he said, citing a motto coined by Mao Zedong. “Chairman Mao loved to swim in the Yangtze — right here, actually. We should do the same, no matter what happens.”

The coronavirus that has infected nearly 50,000 Wuhan residents and killed more than 2,250, but “the hospitals haven’t made a cent from me,” Mr. Lu said. “I haven’t had a cold or fever for nearly 30 years.”

After the government implemented emergency controls in January and shut down public transportation, the other swimmers in Wuhan disappeared. “Usually, there’s a dozen or more of us every afternoon,” Mr. Lu said. “Before they shut down the city, there were several of us still swimming.”

“Now it’s just me,” he added.

Mr. Lu grunted dismissively at younger people hesitant to jump in the river. He made sure that his son and nephews became strong swimmers. “Why stop swimming?” he said. “Of course, it helps! Everyone’s immunity is different, but no matter what, swimming helps. Look at my health.”

In South Korea and Britain, health officials have set up drive-through facilities where patients can be tested for the coronavirus without leaving their cars.

Health officials in those countries say it reduces exposure to other patients in places like waiting rooms, where uninfected people could mix with the infected. Medical workers in protective clothing meet patients at their cars, then reach inside the windows to take samples.

The earliest testing sites have indicated it can streamline the process, proponents say, with the screening completed in less than 10 minutes.

“Here we can test many people within a short period of time in a less crowded manner, and there are lower risks of infection because it’s done inside the car,” Kim An-hyun, chief of a community health center in Goyang, South Korea, told local broadcaster MBC, according to Reuters.

The idea has spread to 48 locations in South Korea. Several facilities have been set up in the past week across Britain, which require appointments.

China’s censors blocked social media posts about the spread of the coronavirus as early as December, according to a report released Tuesday by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.

Many in China have expressed anger at measures taken by the authorities to snuff out the spread of early warnings online. Focus has fallen in particular on Li Wenliang, a doctor who sought to alert others about the disease, only to be held by police and accused of spreading rumors. He would later die from the virus, triggering almost unanimous anger and mourning online.

The new findings underscore the broader and more systematic ways officials sought to contain word of the virus, even as it spread across communities in the central city of Wuhan. Censors on two popular Chinese messaging services used keywords to target a wide array of references to the outbreak, the report said.

“Censored terms included factual descriptions of the flu-like pneumonia disease, references to the name of the location considered as the source of the novel virus, local government agencies in Wuhan, and discussions of the similarity between the outbreak in Wuhan and SARS,” according to the report.

Even after Beijing officially acknowledged the epidemic and sought to contain it by locking down millions of people, heavy censorship has persisted. In particular, on the popular messaging app WeChat, there have been widespread efforts to stifle discussion of the outbreak.

Lotus Ruan, a researcher with Citizen Lab, said such information controls can be particularly dangerous during a public health emergency, because they can prevent people from getting accurate information.

“The broad censorship of the coronavirus we found is significant because blocking general information during a health crisis can limit the public’s ability to be informed and protect themselves,” she said.

The spreading coronavirus may soon affect people’s health in a different way: The outbreak is starting to hurt the supply of essential drugs.

Drug makers are struggling to get raw ingredients for common antibiotics and vitamins from Chinese factories, which were closed for weeks as China battled to contain the coronavirus. Now, even as some of China’s factories have restarted, shortages of some drugs may develop.

The disruption is being felt most acutely in India, where the authorities on Tuesday ordered the country’s vast pharmaceutical industry to stop exporting 26 drugs and drug ingredients, most of them antibiotics, without government permission.

That’s a problem for the rest of the world, which relies on India’s drug makers for much of its supply of generic drugs. India exported about $19 billion of drugs last year and accounted for about one-fifth of the world’s exports of generics by volume, according to the India Brand Equity Foundation.

Facebook said on Tuesday it was taking measures to help curb the spread of the coronavirus by partnering with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and governments around the world.

The social network said it had been working with different groups over the past month to use its ample resources for global aid during the outbreak by offering insight into the behavior of the 2.9 billion people who use its products, or the ability to spread correct information about how to deal with and prevent the virus.

“We’re focused on making sure everyone can access credible and accurate information,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said in a post to his Facebook page. “This is critical in any emergency, but it’s especially important when there are precautions you can take to reduce the risk of infection.”

If someone now searches for the coronavirus on Facebook, they will see a pop-up on the site directing them to the W.H.O. website or a local health authority for the most up-to-date information. The company is also handing out free advertising to global health agencies — including unlimited free advertising for the W.H.O. — to spread information on how to combat the virus.

Facebook has played a role in the spread of misinformation around the coronavirus since the outbreak began. Some people have posted ads claiming false cures and other bogus information to turn a profit. Conspiracy theorists have used the company’s platforms — including Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp — to spread misleading information around how the disease is spread. Facebook said it was doing what it could to identify and limit such activity.

Reporting was contributed by Amy Qin, Sui-Lee Wee, Cho Sang-Hun, Katie Rogers, Christina Goldbaum, Vindu Goel, Reed Abelson, Sopan Deb, Mike Isaac, Karen Weisse, Paul Mozur, Elaine Yu and Sarah Kliff.

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