WHO sees no nCoV peak in China, cases rise overseas

Feb. 7, 2020

China reported nearly 3,700 new novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) cases, a slight decrease from the daily number it has reported, but it's too soon to say if activity is leveling off, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said.

In other developments, the WHO said it has made good strides in getting testing materials out to labs, especially in Africa. Also, more countries outside of China reported new cases, including one in the United Kingdom apparently linked to Singapore travel and 10 on a quarantined Japanese cruise ship.

At its daily media briefing, Mike Ryan, MD, who heads the WHO's health emergencies program, said it’s too soon to know what to make in the small dip in cases, but at least the number didn't go up again. He said the situation in Hubei province is still a great worry, but outside the province, though many cases are still being reported, the situation seems stable.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO's director general, said the WHO has sent out 250,000 test kits to more than 70 labs. Early on in the outbreak, only two labs in Africa—located in Senegal and South Africa—could test samples. Now the testing can be done in four more countries: Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, according to a statement from the WHO's African regional office. Eventually, 29 countries in Africa will have diagnostic testing capacity.

Health officials are concerned about the 2019-nCoV threat to Africa, due to trade and travel ties that many have to China and because many countries have weak and overburdened health systems that would struggle to contain an outbreak. The WHO has identified 13 top priority countries based on high volume of travel to China and has sent them protective equipment and other supplies. The countries include Algeria, Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

China's National Health Commission (NHC) reported 3,694 cases, down slightly from the 3,887 it reported prior to that. The new cases push the outbreak's overall total to 28,018. Seventy-three more deaths were reported, all but three from Hubei province, boosting the total to 563.

The number of severe illnesses rose by 640 to a total of 3,859. So far 1,153 patients have recovered and been discharged from the hospital.

In other developments, a trial of the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir is set to launch, Xinhua, China's state media, reported. The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial has enrolled 761 patients and will be conducted at several hospitals in Wuhan.

In earlier studies, the drug made by Gilead showed in vitro and in vivo activity against other coronaviruses such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS-CoV. The drug isn't licensed or approved, but Gilead has provided it for emergency use in a small number of 2019-nCoV patients, including at least one in the United States.

In another development, a doctor in Wuhan who was reprimanded by Chinese officials after he warned of the spread of SARS-like illness on social media in late December has apparently died from a 2019-nCoV infection, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported. Li Wenliang, MD, age 34, is one of the first doctors who sounded the alarm about the new virus.

Earlier, the Chinese media reported that he died, triggering an outpouring of grief and gratitude for his role in exposing the outbreak, then reports surfaced that he was still alive, but in critical condition. The SCMP said Wuhan Central Hospital has since confirmed the death.

Meanwhile, the South China Agriculture University announced that researchers have identified pangolins as a potential intermediate host for the new virus. The brief announcement didn't give any details about the group's investigation, and scientists not involved in the probe have not reviewed the findings. Pangolins are a scaly mammal, and their meat is eaten in China and other parts of the world as a delicacy, and their scales are used in traditional medicine.

In developments outside of China, Japan reported 10 more 2019-nCoV infections on a quarantined cruise ship, raising the total number of passengers with confirmed illnesses to 20, Reuters reported. Results on 170 other people are pending. A cruise ship in Hong Kong is also under quarantine after illnesses were detected in eight Chinese travelers.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom reported its third case, and the Department of Health said the person wasn't exposed in the UK.

The BBC reported that the patient apparently contracted the virus in Singapore, which follows other recent reports of people exposed in countries outside of China.

Besides its health advice for people who traveled from China, the UK's health department now recommends that people arriving from the following destinations self-isolate for 14 days: Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Elsewhere, other affected areas reported more new cases, including:

Hong Kong reported three more cases, raising its total to 24. The latest include a woman who commutes to work in Dongguan and is the wife of an earlier case, and two other women who had no history of travel during their incubation periods, according to a statement from Hong Kong's Center for Health Protection (CHP).

Malaysia reported two more cases, raising the country's total to 14. One is a Malaysian man who is a family member of a person of someone who got sick after returning from China, signaling local spread. The second is a Chinese tourist from Wuhan.

Vietnam has 12 cases now, with the newest being a mother and a sibling of an earlier confirmed patient, according to an update from the country's health ministry.

The WHO said in its latest situation update that over the last 24 hours it received 25 more reports of cases outside China, raising the total to 216 from 25 countries.

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