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There were 1,700 new cases of the coronavirus reported in China on Thursday, as the death toll from the disease reached 170.
There are now almost 8,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in China, and it has now spread to every area in the country. Tibet, the last uninfected region, confirmed its first case on Thursday.
The continuing exponential spread of the virus inside China, together with the slow-but-steady spread to an increasing number of other countries, has led the World Health Organization’s emergency committee to meet in Geneva on Thursday, its third meeting in a week.
The committee will once again consider whether the outbreak constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern” and what steps the WHO should take to deal with it.
The infection rate of the new coronavirus will soon pass that of SARS, the 2003 epidemic that saw 8,098 infections and 774 deaths. While the fatality rate of the new virus is nowhere near that of SARS, experts warn that infection levels are going to continue to rise rapidly for weeks, if not months.
There are currently 79 confirmed cases of coronavirus reported in 16 countries around the world. On Thursday, India and the Philippines confirmed their first cases, while South Korea confirmed its first human-to-human transmission.
The WHO praised Beijing’s efforts to contain the virus, which include the lockdown of tens of millions of people in central Hubei province, the building of a new hospital in 10 days, the cancellation of major public events like soccer matches and Lunar New Year celebrations, and the closure of public spaces like bars and cinemas.
“We were very impressed with the level of engagement with the Chinese government at all levels,” Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergency health program, said at a press conference on Wednesday. “I have never seen the scale and commitment of an epidemic response at this level. The challenge is great, but the response has been massive.”
But many continue to criticize Beijing’s response to the outbreak and the major gaps in the resources and supplies available to doctors and officials in the Hubei region, where the vast majority of cases have been reported.
One case that highlighted these shortcomings was the death on Wednesday of a disabled 17-year-old man named Yan Cheng. He died because his father was forced into isolation because of the coronavirus and was not able to look after him.
The teenager, who suffered from cerebral palsy and was unable to care for himself, was left alone for six days in the rural area of Hubei province where he lived. Local Communist Party officials who were left in charge of him fed him just twice in that time, the South China Morning Post reported.
Yan Cheng’s father, knowing of his son’s predicament, appealed for help on social media, writing: “I fear my child will die soon.” His post was accompanied by a screenshot showing 10 calls he had placed to the local party secretary on Tuesday alone.
Authorities say they have launched an investigation.
Cover: People wear face masks while walking in Beijing on Jan. 26, 2020, amid fears over the spread of a new deadly coronavirus circulating in China. (Kyodo via AP Images) ==Kyodo