China Confirms Coronavirus Tied to 4 Deaths Can Be Transmitted Among People

Chinese health experts have confirmed that a new coronavirus that has now killed four people is contagious, raising fears that the virus could spread quickly among people.China’s National Health Commission said the virus, which causes a type of pneumonia, can be transmitted person-to-person and not just from animals to people, the official Xinhua news agency reported.Earlier Monday, Chinese health officials confirmed 136 new cases of the newly discovered virus — a huge spike — over the past three days, including the first cases in the capital, Beijing, and Shanghai. Heath officials in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, say the number of cases now exceeds 200, with most of the confirmed cases  described as mild.  The latest confirmed fatality is an 89-old man in Wuhan. South Korean health officials said Monday they confirmed a case in a 35-year-old woman who flew from Wuhan to Incheon, South Korea. Thailand and Japan have also confirmed cases.Indonesia’s Health Ministry says it has increased health screenings of passengers from China at airports and ports to try to prevent the spread of the virus into Indonesia. The ministry’s disease control and prevention director general, Anung Sugihantono, told VOA that the Health Ministry is monitoring travelers, particularly those from China, with a thermal scan as well as distributing health alert cards.On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started screening passengers arriving from Wuhan at three U.S. airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. Airports in Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore are also doing the same. Chinese and U.S. health officials are particularly concerned because many of the 1.4 billion Chinese citizens are expected to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday that starts Jan. 25, both inside China and beyond. A coronavirus is one of a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. SARS, which also started in China, killed nearly 800 people globally during an outbreak nearly 20 years ago. Chinese health experts say they know little about the new strain, dubbed 2019-nCoV. They suspect the outbreak started in a Wuhan seafood market, which also sold other animals such as poultry, bats, marmots and wild game meat. The World Health Organization has said an animal source seemed to be “the most likely primary source” with “some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts.” The WHO is convening an emergency committee Wednesday to discuss the situation.Doctors in Wuhan, China’s seventh most populous city, have stepped up screening for suspected cases of pneumonia. They are urging people to be more conscious of their hygiene and to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Health officials are urging caution but say there is no reason to panic. The WHO is not recommending against travel to China, and China’s National Health Commission says the current outbreak is “preventable and controllable.” Of the new cases announced in the past few days, all involve adults ages 25 to 89. About half are male (78) and half are female (75), according to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, which translated the Wuhan health commission’s statement.Sasmito Madrim in Jakarta contributed to this report. 

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Countries Around World Gear Up Response to New Coronavirus

Countries in Asia and elsewhere have begun body temperature checks at airports, railway stations and along highways in hopes of catching people carrying a new coronavirus that is believed to have spread from Wuhan in central China and sickened more than 290 people in that country. The recent confirmation that the disease can spread between humans has heightened fears as millions of Chinese travel during the annual Lunar New Year holiday.
    
The measures are part of a widening effort aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, another coronoavirus that started in China and killed nearly 800 people, paralyzed transport and damaged Asian economies.
   JAPAN
    
One case has been detected in Japan, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged officials to step up quarantine checks at airports and other entry points, with many visitors from China expected to arrive during the Lunar New Year holiday. The number of Chinese tourists has risen steadily in recent years, with more than 9 million visiting last year. Japan will require visitors arriving from Wuhan to fill in health forms, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. Japan confirmed its first patient last week, a man in his 30s who tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from Wuhan. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said it has tracked down 41 people who had contacts with the patient and is monitoring them. It says none has developed pneumonia symptoms.AUSTRALIA
    
Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical officer, said flights from Wuhan are being met by biosecurity staff and by state health officials in New South Wales who are distributing pamphlets in English and Chinese to all passengers describing the symptoms of the disease and asking them to identify themselves if they have any. Australian health officials said a man was placed in isolation in Brisbane after developing a respiratory illness after traveling to Wuhan but has now recovered.
 UNITED STATES
    
The U.S. has begun screening passengers on flights from Wuhan arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Los Angeles International airport _ the three major ports of entry to the U.S. Initial screenings are expected to involve around 5,000 passengers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It says it has developed a test to diagnose the new coronavirus which it plans to share with domestic and international partners. “Based on current information, however, the immediate health risk … to the general American public is deemed to be low at this time. Nevertheless, CDC is taking proactive preparedness precautions,” it said.
   Travelers wearing face masks gather at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Jan. 21, 2020.HONG KONG
    
The semi-autonomous Chinese city is one of the most popular destinations for mainland Chinese. Along with stepped-up surveillance, additional cleaning and disinfection measures have been ordered for planes and trains from Wuhan as well as for train stations and the airport. A lack of information and low levels of vigilance were blamed for Hong Kong becoming the second-hardest hit area by SARS after mainland China. Officials are determined not to see a replay. Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung on Tuesday said authorities are ready for a worst-case scenario and are on extremely high alert. As in much of mainland China, Hong Kong residents favor traditional markets where live poultry and other animals are sold. The government health department has advised against visiting such markets or touching animals or their droppings. The outbreak is believed to have started at a market in Wuhan.
     SOUTH KOREA
    
South Korea, which reported its first case of the virus on Monday, has enacted strict airport monitoring measures. At Incheon airport near Seoul, the only airport in South Korea with direct flights from Wuhan, authorities have been operating two special gates for passengers from the city since Jan. 3. Officials use ear thermometers to check passengers’ temperatures. Since Jan. 2, airport staff have also been spraying disinfectant at arrival halls twice a week, up from once a week previously. Handrails of moving walkways and escalators, elevator buttons and doors, drinking fountains and other sensitive areas are also wiped with disinfectant twice a day, the airport said. In 2015, South Korea suffered an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome which killed 36 people and sickened nearly 200.
    NIGERIA
    
Nigeria’s government says health authorities at points of entry are on alert for cases of coronavirus arriving in Africa’s most populous country. The Nigeria Center for Disease Control asked that travelers from Wuhan report to a medical facility and the center if they feel ill. China is Africa’s top trading partner. South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said anyone with a severe respiratory illness should be tested if they have traveled to Wuhan within two weeks or had close physical contact with a coronavirus patient or treatment at a facility where a confirmed case has been reported. There were more than 200,000 Chinese workers in Africa as of the end of 2017, not including numerous informal migrants such as traders and shopkeepers, according to the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University.
    SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA
    
Singapore will expand temperature screening at Changi Airport, one of Asia’s busiest travel hubs, for all travelers on flights arriving from China beginning on Wednesday. The health ministry said individuals with pneumonia and a history of travel to Wuhan within 14 days of the onset of symptoms will be isolated in a hospital as a precautionary measure and investigated. Neighboring Malaysia has also beefed up screening at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Deputy health Minister Lee Boon Chye, inspecting health screening at the airport Tuesday, said staff are being trained to handle possible cases. “If a case emerges, then we may have to take more drastic measures, but for now, we hope we can nip it at the entry point,” Lee told reporters.
   BANGLADESH
    
Bangladesh civil aviation authorities have ordered airport managers to start screening incoming passengers from China. A.H.M. Touhid-ul Ahsan, director of the main Shahjalal International Airport, said doctors at the airport would look for fevers, coughs, breathing difficulties and sore throats. The country’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research will be notified of any passengers with symptoms for further examination, he said.People wear face masks as they ride an escalator at the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Jan. 21, 2020. MAINLAND CHINA
    
China’s often secretive Communist government was blamed for making SARS far worse by initially hiding information and blocking the work of the World Health Organization. This time, leader Xi Jinping has led calls for tough measures, ordering that “party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.” At the airport in Wuhan, the temperatures of departing passengers were being checked and outbound tour groups were banned from leaving the city. Virtually anyone in a public role, from traffic policemen to bank tellers, along with many riding public transport have donned protective masks.

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Number of New Virus Infections Triples in China

The number of people infected with a new strain of coronavirus in China tripled over the weekend and is spreading from Wuhan to other major cities. The new cases of pneumonia-like illness caused by the virus has been detected in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Scientists have also confirmed that the virus can be spread from human to human, which is bad news for China as it prepares for the Spring Holiday which is the busiest travel season. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

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Unhealthy Levels of Smog Choke Thai Capital for Over Week

Unhealthy levels of smog have choked Bangkok for more than a week, as the Thai capital’s residents fume over the ineffectiveness of government measures to combat the problem.As thick haze blanketed the city Monday, pollution levels soared to 95 micrograms per cubic meter of PM 2.5 particle at noon in some areas, according to the government’s Pollution Control Department, which described that level as very unhealthy. The maximum level considered safe by the government is 50.PM 2.5 particles are small enough to penetrate deeply into the lungs, which can cause both short-term bronchial problems as well as serious long-term health issues.Bangkok’s smog crisis results from still air and an excessive amount of ultrafine dust from vehicle emissions and other activities, Pollution Control Department Director-General Pralong Damrongthai explained in a Monday press release. He said smog is being trapped close to the ground by a blanket of warm air in what meteorologists call an inversion.A thick layer of smog covers central Bangkok, Thailand, Jan. 20, 2020.Bangkok residents have grown frustrated with the lack of progress in improving the situation. A survey by the National Institute for Development Administration released on Sunday showed 81% of the 1,256 local residents questioned agreed the government is ineffective in solving the problem. Only 2.7% of respondents approved of the government’s efforts.The Pollution Control Department issued a 52-page national action plan in October for combating dust pollution problems, but it is unclear how many, if any, of the measures it suggested were implemented. The plan mostly included guidelines for government agencies, but also discussed possible precautions and ways to measure pollutants.Burning of fields is cited as the main reason for smog outside of Bangkok, with provinces in the central and northern regions of Thailand also blanketed in haze.Tara Buakamsri of the environmental group Greenpeace said the current situation shows the government’s strategy is failing.”They probably think that the situation happens just only few days or few weeks and then it’s gone, therefore, no concrete or long-term measures have been launched by the government,” he said.Tara also said the official maximum “safe level” of PM 2.5 of 50 micrograms per cubic meter over 24 hours was set too high.”That level cannot protect people’s health,” he said. He urged the maximum safe level be reduced to 35, as it is in other places such as the United States.
 

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Britain’s Johnson Poised to Give Huawei Role in 5G Development

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears set to give the go-ahead for Chinese telecom giant Huawei to play a role in the development of Britain’s 5G wireless network — a move that risks jeopardizing intelligence-sharing between Britain and America, according U.S. officials.  Despite last-ditch lobbying by the U.S. to block Huawei, British officials say it is a “foregone conclusion” Johnson will allow Huawei participation.That would confirm a “provisional” decision made by his predecessor, Theresa May. Last year, she said Huawei should be allowed to build some so-called “non-core” parts of Britain’s future 5G data network, discounting U.S. alarm.Johnson’s final decision could come as early as this week, officials say.For a year, the Trump administration has urged Britain to ban Huawei from participating in the development of Britain’s fifth-generation wireless network. U.S. officials say there’s a significant risk that the company, which has close ties to Chinese intelligence services, will act as a Trojan horse for Beijing’s espionage agencies, allowing them to sweep up data and gather intelligence.FILE – Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Oct. 16, 2019.Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have urged all Western allies to shun Huawei on security grounds. They have specifically warned Downing Street that Britain’s participation in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing arrangement — the U.S.-led Anglophone intelligence pact linking Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain — would be imperiled.Australia and New Zealand have banned Huawei from developing their 5G networks. As yet, Canada has not.Senior U.S. security officials flew to London last week and warned Johnson and his ministers that allowing Huawei to supply even some non-core equipment of the future 5G network would be “nothing short of madness.”Cost factorBut Johnson has faced strong counter lobbying from China — and also from British telecom providers and mobile phone companies. They have already been installing Huawei technology to start setting up the new network in more than 70 cities in Britain. They warn that delaying the rollout of 5G would cost the British economy billions of pounds. Ripping out masts and other equipment already in place would cost British providers hundreds of millions of pounds and could delay by up to five years the 5G network.Last week, Johnson expressed frustration with the U.S. over the issue, saying in a BBC radio interview that he didn’t want “to prejudice our national security or our ability to co-operate with Five Eyes intelligence partners,” but that he wanted Britain to have “access to the best possible technology. We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody.”Johnson added, “If people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.”Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, Britain, Jan. 20, 2020.U.S. officials reportedly told Johnson that Britain shouldn’t prioritize costs over security.Johnson has some U.S. supporters.”It is a difficult decision for a number of countries, the U.K. being one of them,” said Robert Manning, an analyst at the Atlantic Council.Huawei alternativesManning sympathizes with Johnson’s complaint that the U.S. isn’t offering any alternatives to Huawei.”On one level, this is all a fallout from America First policy. We should have sat down with our allies a long time ago to sort out what you have to worry about and what you might have some leeway on. There is a certain demonization going on, ” he told VOA.British technology experts say it is easier for the U.S. to avoid using Huawei equipment, as it is building a less sophisticated 5G network and doesn’t require the advanced antenna-sharing technology Huawei has developed. They say Huawei will provide not just faster mobile data connection but easier connectivity between internet-based devices, from laptops and smart refrigerators to self-driving cars.U.S. giants Cisco and Qualcomm are the go-to 5G equipment suppliers in America. But like Europe’s Ericsson and Nokia, they can’t currently provide the same advanced equipment as Huawei or at the same low price.Security risksBritish intelligence agencies are split on whether Huawei poses a security risk.  Andrew Parker, head of MI5, believes U.S. alarm is overblown. He has said publicly that the security risks can be managed if Huawei has access to the less sensitive parts of the new network, and is monitored closely and its equipment screened.He has also discounted U.S. threats to review intelligence-sharing, saying there is “no reason to think” Washington would follow through with its threat, as the U.S.-U.K. partnership is “very close and very trusted.”But U.S. officials have told VOA that Parker is wrong to think that U.S. intelligence agencies would overlook the spying fears. They also warn that a possible Johnson fudge, whereby Huawei’s equipment would be allowed in less sensitive parts of the network, wouldn’t assuage their concerns.Top officials at Britain’s GCHQ, the eavesdropping spy agency and the country’s largest intelligence, aren’t as sanguine as Parker, and remain worried about the risks of handing Huawei unprecedented access to British citizens’ sensitive data.FILE – An analyst points to a screen at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s electronic intelligence service, in London, March, 14, 2014.They agree with U.S. intelligence assessments that restricting Huawei to the “edges” of the new network would make little difference to the security risk. They told Britain’s Sunday Times that giving Huawei such access would be akin to “letting a fox loose in a chicken coop.”Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who when in office ruled out using Huawei for 5G development, said the nature of 5G technology made it impossible to separate the core from non-core elements of the future network. He said Huawei could be forced by Chinese law to hand over information to Beijing’s espionage agencies.”Do you want to give China the capability to materially interfere with what will become one of the most fundamental technological platforms in the modern economy?” he said in a radio interview last week.The Chinese government says Huawei is a private company and poses no security risk to the West. Huawei has dismissed U.S. allegations that it could undermine Britain’s national security as “baseless speculation.”Beijing has also made thinly veiled threats, suggesting a decision to ban Huawei could result in Britain being punished when it comes to trade and investment.Britain hopes to pull off post-Brexit trade deals with both Washington and Beijing to help compensate for reduced trade with Europe.
 

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China’s Xi Says Coronavirus Outbreak Must Be Taken Seriously

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that it’s “extremely crucial” to take every possible measure to combat a new coronavirus that has infected more than 200 people in the country.His remarks, cited by state broadcaster CCTV, came the same day that the country reported a sharp rise in the number of people infected by the novel form of viral pneumonia, including the first cases in the capital.The outbreak comes as the country enters its busiest travel period, when millions board trains and planes for the Lunar New Year holidays.”The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan and other places must be taken seriously,” Xi said, according to CCTV. “Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.”Health authorities in the central city of Wuhan, where the viral pneumonia appears to have originated, said an additional 136 cases have been confirmed in the city, which now has a total of 198 infected patients. As of the weekend, a third patient had died, bringing the death toll to three.Five individuals in Beijing and 14 in southern China’s Guangdong have also been diagnosed with the new coronavirus, state broadcaster CCTV reported Monday evening. A total of seven suspected cases have been found in other parts of the country, including in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in the southwest and in Shanghai.The outbreak has put other countries on alert as millions of Chinese travel for Lunar New Year. Authorities in Thailand and in Japan have already identified at least three cases, all involving recent travel from China.South Korea reported its first case Monday, when a 35-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan tested positive for the new coronavirus one day after arriving at Seoul’s Incheon airport. The woman has been isolated at a state-run hospital in Incheon city, just west of Seoul, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.At least a half-dozen countries in Asia and three U.S. airports have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China.Videos posted online show people in protective suits checking one-by-one the temperatures of plane passengers arriving in Macao from Wuhan. A man surnamed Yang who works for the Macao Health Bureau confirmed over the phone that such checks are taking place in the southern Chinese region.Many of the initial cases of the coronavirus were linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, which was closed as authorities investigated.Since hundreds of people who came into close contact with diagnosed patients have not gotten sick, the municipal health commission maintains that the virus is not easily transmitted between humans, though it has not ruled out limited human-to-human transmission.China’s National Health Commission said experts have judged the current outbreak to be “preventable and controllable.””However, the source of the new type of coronavirus has not been found, we do not fully understand how the virus is transmitted, and changes in the virus still need to be closely monitored,” the commission said in a statement Sunday.Coronaviruses cause diseases ranging from the common cold to SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS first infected people in southern China in late 2002 and spread to more than two dozen countries, killing nearly 800. The Chinese government initially tried to conceal the severity of the SARS epidemic, but its cover-up was exposed by a high-ranking physician.”In the early days of SARS, reports were delayed and covered up,” said an editorial in the nationalistic Global Times. “That kind of thing must not happen again in China.””We have made great strides in medicine, social affairs management and public opinion since 2003,” the editorial said.China is putting forth its “utmost efforts to tackle the situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Monday.The government has notified and maintained close communication with the World Health Organization and other relevant countries and regions, Geng said, adding that Wuhan has adopted measures to control the flow of people leaving the city.The virus causing the current outbreak is different from those previously identified, Chinese scientists said earlier this month. Initial symptoms of the novel coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.On the Weibo social media platform, which is widely used in China, people posted prevention advice such as wearing masks and washing hands. State broadcaster CCTV recommended staying warm, increasing physical activity, eating lightly and avoiding crowded places. Some people said they had canceled their travel plans and were staying home for Lunar New Year. 

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Malawi is Home to Africa’s First Drone Academy

Malawi this month opened the first African Drone and Data Academy, with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.  The academy aims to improve drone technology skills across Africa, beginning with Malawi and neighboring countries.Karen Asaba developed an interest in drones at Uganda Flying Labs, a Kampala-based drone mapping and data hub. As a student at Malawi’s just opened African Drone and Data Academy, she gets to learn how to build one.”Right now, we are learning how to assemble a drone from the start, considering its weight, considering the central gravity, considering the GPS and all the electronics that are involved in making the drone,” she said.Asaba is one of 26 students from across Africa in the first three-month course at the academy, learning to construct and pilot drones.Instructors are seen teaching students at the African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi. (Lameck Masina/VOA)The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is backing the program, which this year is expected to train 150 students.UNICEF says the academy, and the launch of Africa’s first drone corridor in Malawi in 2016, will promote drones for development and humanitarian use.Rudolf Schwenk, the country representative for UNICEF in Malawi, says the drones will have broad practical applications.”For example, transporting medical supplies to remove areas or transporting samples very fast, where it will take a lot of time to transport them.  We have also worked on emergency preparedness and response because with data and drone imagery, you can see where flooding will happen,” Schwenk said.Thumbiko Nkwawa Zingwe, a student at the newly-launched African Drone and Data Academy, says the course he has taken there has insipred him to start a space agency in Malawi. (Lameck Masina/VOA)The drone course was developed with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as Virginia Tech.Kevin Kochersberger, an associate professor at Virginia Tech, explained the course’s components.”We go through three modules in this program. They have gone [through] drone logistics, drone technologies so they become very functional in drone[s] – not only being pilots, but they operate and maintain the drones as well,” Kochersberger said.The drone academy has inspired some students like Thumbiko Nkwawa Zingwe to reach for the stars.I have a vision that I can start a first Malawian space agency, which can be utilizing geo-information data for different applications. For example, here in Malawi we are so susceptible to floods as a geo-hazardous anomaly,” Zingwe said.The African Drone and Data Academy’s first graduates are expected in March.The academy plans to partner with Malawi University of Science and Technology for a free master’s degree program in drone technology by 2022.   

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