First coronavirus death in Taiwan, toll passes 1,600

Agence France-Presse . Taipei | Published: 11:39, Feb 16,2020 | Updated: 00:35, Feb 17,2020


Taiwan reported its first death from the new coronavirus Sunday, as the death toll from the outbreak rose to 1,665 inside mainland China.

A 61-year-old man from central Taiwan with underlying health problems but no recent overseas travel history died in hospital on Saturday after testing positive for the virus, officials confirmed.

It is the fifth recorded death outside mainland China — previous victims were in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan, and France.

‘This latest case was an unlicensed taxi driver. His main clients were people who had been to China, Hong Kong and Macao,’ health and welfare minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters.

Chen said authorities were examining the driver’s client list and their travel history, in an attempt to trace the possible source of infection.

A 50-year-old male

relative of the victim was later confirmed to have contracted the virus,

Chen added, although he was not showing any symptoms.

Taiwan’s confirmed cases now stands at 20.

France reported the first coronavirus fatality outside Asia on Saturday, fuelling global concerns about the epidemic.

Nearly 1,000 Taiwanese are still awaiting repatriation in Hubei province — the epicentre of the outbreak — after Beijing and Taipei accused each other of ‘political manipulation’, causing delays.

Taiwan did fly 247 people from Hubei’s capital Wuhan on mainland-owned China Eastern Airlines flight on 3 February.

But how that evacuation was carried out caused disagreements.

The relationship between the two is complicated by the fact that Beijing views Taiwanese people as its own citizens, not as foreign nationals.

In hardest-hit Hubei, the number of new cases slowed for a third consecutive day and at 139, the number of deaths was level with Saturday’s toll.

The number of new cases in other parts of the country has dropped for twelve straight days.

Mi Feng, National Health Commission spokesman, said Sunday that the figures were a sign that China was controlling the outbreak.

‘The effects of epidemic prevention and control in various parts of the country can already be seen,’ he told reporters.

But the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that it was ‘impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take’.

‘We ask all governments, companies, and news organisations to work with us to sound the appropriate level of alarm without fanning the flames of hysteria,’ he said, speaking at the Munich Security Conference.

The UN health body has asked China for more details on how diagnoses are being made.

An international team of WHO experts will arrive in Beijing this weekend for a joint mission with Chinese counterparts.

The scale of the epidemic ballooned on Thursday after authorities in Hubei changed their criteria for counting cases, retroactively adding 14,000 cases in a single day.

Chinese authorities have placed some 56 million people in Hubei and its capital Wuhan under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.

Even as China insisted the epidemic was under control, Hubei authorities announced Sunday a tightening of movement across the province.

This includes broad instructions that residential compounds and villages are ‘sealed off’ from unnecessary visitors, with tenants’ outings ‘strictly managed’, as well as recommending bulk purchases of daily necessities.

All non-essential public spaces will also be closed, and residential areas and workplaces with confirmed cases should implement a 14-day quarantine.

Local authorities elsewhere in China have also introduced measures to try and stop the virus spreading.

Beijing’s municipal government has enacted a rule requiring people coming to the capital to self-quarantine for 14 days, according to official media.

The biggest cluster outside China is on a quarantined cruise ship off Japan, with 355 infections confirmed.

The US, Canada, and Hong Kong said they will evacuate their citizens from the ship, and quarantine them on home soil.

Several countries have banned arrivals from China and major airlines have cut services to the country.

Malaysia said Sunday it would not allow any cruise ships departing or transiting Chinese ports to enter the country, following the discovery of a US citizen with the coronavirus.

The virus spread last month as millions travelled across China for the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended to try and prevent more infections.

People have slowly started to return to work in the past two weeks, though many are doing their jobs from home and schools remain closed.

With the government facing criticism over its handling of the crisis, Chinese president Xi Jinping called for tighter policing to protect social stability.

On Sunday, a host of new reprimands were made against officials in the virus-hit region, including one who ‘cut corners and worked around the centralised quarantine order,’ according to Hubei authorities.

‘When a crisis like this happens it becomes politically important — it’s about China’s international image, it’s about the Party’s legitimacy,’ said Zhou Xun, a historian of modern China at the University of Essex.

‘But in general the post-Mao government did very little to really build up its health system, so the Chinese health system is very weak, it’s overloaded, inefficient, expensive and chaotic,’ she said.

‘That’s one of the things (that) made the current crisis even worse.’

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email