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Beijing Takes Direct Control Over Coronavirus Response In Hubei Province

Feb 11, 2020

China's government on Tuesday fired two senior health officials in Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, placing Beijing in direct control of efforts there to contain its spread.

The move came on the same day the country reported 108 new deaths from the virus, the highest single-day number to date, representing about 10% of all fatalities since the outbreak began.

Zhang Jin, the Communist Party secretary in charge of the Hubei Health Commission, and Liu Yingzi, head of the provincial Health Commission, have been dismissed, according to state broadcaster CCTV. It said that Wang Hesheng, the deputy director of the central government's National Health Commission, would assume both roles.

At latest count in China, there were 42,638 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV, as the virus is officially known, with 1,017 deaths in China, including Hong Kong. Health officials said there were 108 new fatalities since the previous day's report of 97. Of the latest deaths, 103 occurred in Hubei province, whose largest city, Wuhan, is where the outbreak was first identified.

On Monday, a World Health Organization team of experts arrived in China to help with containing the epidemic following earlier reports that Beijing was uninterested in help from the outside.

The team's arrival was announced at a daily briefing at WHO headquarters in Geneva. The organization's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, tweeted Monday that WHO would be working with its Chinese counterparts "to make sure we have the right expertise to answer the right questions."

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, wearing a protective face mask waves as he inspects the novel coronavirus pneumonia prevention and control work at a neighborhood in Beijing on Monday.
Pang Xinglei / Xinhua via AP

Also on Monday, China's President Xi Jinping, wearing a face mask, toured Beijing Ditan Hospital and a district center for disease control in the capital. According to Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with China's Communist Party, Xi said "the situation at the moment remains very serious but [he] expressed confidence that China can certainly obtain full victory in the fight against the epidemic."

The same newspaper, however, kept up attacks on "the West," which it said "has shown its ugliest face to the world" in its portrayal of the outbreak.

"China has stopped at nothing in its attempt to prevent the further spreading of the virus and safeguard the world from the contagion," an opinion piece read. "China's comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures have helped the world make necessary preparations to prevent and control the spread of the epidemic."

Meanwhile, the first confirmed case of the virus has emerged from a group of hundreds of Americans evacuated from China to military bases around the U.S. in the wake of the outbreak.

The case was of an individual under quarantine in San Diego who, along with three others, had previously tested negative for the disease. However, on Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told county health officials that "further testing revealed that one of the four patients tested positive," according to a statement from UC San Diego Health.

Also on Monday, Thailand became the latest country to deny entry to Holland America's cruise ship MS Westerdam, which has been turned away from various ports in recent days over fears that passengers could be carrying the coronavirus. Although there's been no indication of any infections aboard, the Westerdam in recent days has also been denied entry in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and the U.S. territory of Guam.

Media gather outside the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on Tuesday. Japan's Health Ministry announced 65 new confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus on the ship.
Jae C. Hong / AP

The news comes after the cruise line announced previously that "all guests will be disembarking in Bangkok for their forward flights home."

Another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, has been under quarantine in the Japanese port of Yokohama since last week. Japan's health ministry said Monday that there were 65 new cases of the coronavirus identified on the ship. That brings the total aboard to 135. The new cases included 45 Japanese nationals and 11 Americans, as well as passengers or crew from several other countries, officials said.

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