Beijing imposes curbs on movement in Wenzhou, 800 km away from Wuhan, while the Philippines reports death of 44-year-old man taking toll from disease to 305.

Passengers wearing masks walk outside the Shanghai railway station in Shanghai, China as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus on February 2, 2020.
Passengers wearing masks walk outside the Shanghai railway station in Shanghai, China as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus on February 2, 2020. (Reuters)

China imposed a lockdown Sunday on a major city far away from the epicentre of a coronavirus epidemic, as its death toll from the disease soared to 304 and the first foreign fatality was reported in the Philippines.

Ten days after locking down Wuhan, authorities on Sunday announced similar draconian curbs on people movement in Wenzhou, 800km away.

Wenzhou is a coastal city of nine million people in Zhejiang province, part of the eastern industrial heartland that has powered China's economic rise over recent decades.

Only one resident per household is allowed to go out every two days to buy necessities and 46 highway toll stations have been closed, authorities announced.

The city had previously closed public places such as cinemas and museums and suspended public transport.

Zhejiang has 661 confirmed infections, with 265 of those in Wenzhou, according to the government.

This is the highest tally for any province in China after ground-zero Hebei.

Since emerging out of the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, the coronavirus has infected nearly 14,500 people across China and reached 24 countries.

Many of the infections overseas have been of people who had travelled from Wuhan or surrounding areas of Hubei province.

China has embarked on unprecedented efforts to contain the virus, which is believed to have jumped to humans from a Wuhan animal market and can be transmitted among people in a similar fashion to the flu.

Those efforts have included extraordinary quarantines in Wuhan and surrounding cities, with all transport routes out banned, effectively sealing of more than 50 million people.

First outside death

The person who died in the Philippines was a 44-year-old man from Wuhan, according to the World Health Organization, which has declared the epidemic a global health emergency.

The Philippine Department of Health said the Chinese man was admitted on January 25 after experiencing fever, cough, and sore throat. He developed severe pneumonia, and in his last few days, "the patient was stable and showed signs of improvement, however, the condition of the patient deteriorated within his last 24 hours resulting in his demise."

The man's 38-year-old female companion, also from Wuhan, first tested positive for the virus and remains in hospital isolation in Manila.

President Rodrigo Duterte approved a temporary ban on all travellers, except Filipinos, from China and its autonomous regions. 

The US, Japan, Singapore, and Australia have imposed similar restrictions despite criticism from China and an assessment from the WHO that they were unnecessarily hurting trade and travel.

Army to oversee virus hospital

China's army on Sunday was given control of a nearly-finished field hospital that will treat patients at Wuhan.

Some 1,400 military medics will treat patients at the 1,000-bed hospital, dubbed "Fire God Mountain", which will receive its first patients on Monday – just 10 days after construction began, according to state media.

It is one of two makeshift medical facilities that the authorities decided to build in order to relieve hospitals swamped with patients in Wuhan.

The second field hospital, "Thunder God Mountain", is set to start admitting patients on Thursday, with 1,600 beds – 300 more than originally planned.

An aerial view shows the newly completed Huoshenshan Hospital, a dedicated hospital built in 8 days to treat coronavirus patients, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 2, 2020.
An aerial view shows the newly completed Huoshenshan Hospital, a dedicated hospital built in 8 days to treat coronavirus patients, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 2, 2020. (Reuters)

Officials fired over 'poor performance'

Meanwhile, six officials in the city of Huanggang, neighbouring the epicentre of Wuhan, were fired over "poor performance" in handling the outbreak, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

It cited the mayor as saying the city's "capabilities to treat the patients remained inadequate and there is a severe shortage in medical supplies such as protective suits and medical masks".

Figures from the National Health Commission showed an increase of 45 in the death toll and 2,590 in the number of cases for a total of 14,380, well above the number of those infected in the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which broke out in southern China before spreading worldwide.

With the outbreak showing little sign of abating, authorities in Hubei and elsewhere have extended the Lunar New Year holiday, due to end this week, well into February. 

The annual travel crunch of millions of people returning from their hometowns to the cities is thought to pose a major threat of secondary infection at a time when authorities are encouraging people to avoid public gatherings.

All Hubei schools will postpone the opening of the new semester until further notice and students from elsewhere who visited over the holiday will also be excused from classes.

Far away on China's southeast coast, the manufacturing hub of Wenzhou put off the opening of government offices until February 9, private businesses until February 17 and schools until March 1.

Similar measures have been announced in the provinces and cities of Heilongjiang, Shandong, Guizhou, Hebei and Hunan, while the major cities of Shanghai and Beijing were on indefinite leave pending developments.

Despite imposing drastic travel restrictions at home, China has chafed at those imposed by foreign governments, criticising Washington’s order barring entry to most non-citizens who visited China in the past two weeks. 

Apart from dinging China's international reputation, such steps could worsen a domestic economy already growing at its lowest rate in decades.

The crisis is just the latest to confront Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who has been beset by months of anti-government protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong, the re-election of Taiwan's pro-independence president and criticism over human rights violations in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. 

Economically, Xi faces lagging demand and dramatically slower growth at home while the tariff war with the US remains largely unresolved.

South Korea and India flew hundreds of their citizens out of Wuhan. The evacuees went into a two-week quarantine.

South Korea reports three more cases 

On Sunday, South Korea reported three more cases for a total of 15. They include an evacuee, a Chinese relative of a man who tested positive and a man who returned from Wuhan.

Indonesia flew back 241 nationals from Wuhan on Sunday and quarantined them on remote Natuna Islands for two weeks.

The virus' rapid spread in two months prompted the WHO on Thursday to declare it a global emergency.

That declaration "flipped the switch" from a cautious attitude to recommending governments prepare for the possibility the virus might spread, said the WHO representative in Beijing, Gauden Galea.

Most cases reported so far have been people who visited China or their family members.

The agency acted out of concern for poorer countries that might not be equipped to respond, said Galea. Such a declaration calls for a coordinated international response and can bring more money and resources.

WHO said it was especially concerned that some cases abroad involved human-to-human transmission.

"Countries need to get ready for possible importation in order to identify cases as early as possible and in order to be ready for domestic outbreak control, if that happens," said Galea.

Australia, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the US and Vietnam all reported new cases Saturday. 

Spain confirmed its first case, a German man who had close contact with an infected person in Germany and then travelled to the Canary Islands with friends. Four friends who were hospitalised with him have not shown symptoms.

Death rate falling

Both the new virus and SARS are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that cause the common cold.

The death rate in China is falling, but the number of confirmed cases will keep growing because thousands of specimens from suspected cases have yet to be tested, Galea said.

"The case-fatality ratio is settling out at a much lower level than we were reporting three, now four, weeks ago," he said.

Although scientists expect to see the limited transmission of the virus between people with family or other close contacts, they are concerned about cases of infection spreading to people who might have less exposure.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies