Coronavirus: Cases in China slow dramatically as Italy begins nationwide travel ban

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Starkly illustrating the global east-to-west spread of the new coronavirus, Italy began an extraordinary, sweeping lockdown Tuesday while in China, the diminishing threat prompted the president to visit the epicentre and declare: “We will certainly defeat this epidemic.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to the central city of Wuhan — his first since the start of the outbreak — was the latest sign that China is edging back toward normalcy after weeks of extreme quarantine measures. China reported just 19 new infections Tuesday, down from thousands each day last month.

The visit also was likely to be seen as an attempt to bolster views of the ruling Communist Party’s handling of the crisis. Xi was conspicuously absent from the public eye during the early days of the outbreak and alarms were not sounded until late January.

“Things are slowly returning to normal,” said Yang Tianxiao, a finance worker in Beijing, where the city government is gradually easing restrictions that kept many office workers at home.

Xi addressed patients and medical workers via a video link. He also strolled through an apartment complex where residents are still quarantined.

“Wuhan must prevail, Hubei must prevail, all of China must prevail,” Xi said.

A discharged COVID-19 patient carries luggage while departing Wuchang Fang Cang makeshift hospital, which is the latest temporary hospital being shut down in Wuhan, China’s Hubei province. (Getty Images)

With patient numbers falling, Wuhan closed the last of 16 temporary hospitals used mainly to house those with mild symptoms.

Authorities in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, stepped up preparations for resuming business production, reopened some roads to restore agricultural production and announced the launch of a colour-coded app-based system that will allow people who are deemed healthy to travel freely within the province.

But disruptions spread elsewhere, upending life in Italy in particular.

Travel restrictions previously limited to the country’s north were extended everywhere. Teams of Italian police patrolled cafes to make sure owners were keeping customers one metre apart. The streets of the Italian capital were as quiet as they are during the annual mid-August vacation shutdown.

“We’re only at the beginning,” said Dr. Massimo Galli, head of infectious disease at Sacco Hospital in Milan, where people at the city’s main train station were required to sign forms certifying the necessity of their travel.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The World Health Organization says people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while severe cases may last three to six weeks. In mainland China, where the outbreak emerged in December, almost three-quarters of its more than 80,000 patients have recovered. 

But with more than 110,000 cases in reported  in countries around the world, WHO and local health officials are emphaszing the importance of educating the public about how to avoid infection, and preparing health systems to deal with a surge in cases.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and some of the hard-hit regions around the world.

Here’s what’s happening in Canada

A flight carrying Canadians who were aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship landed at CFB Trenton early Tuesday morning. The chartered plane, which departed from California, ferried the Canadian travellers to Ontario, where they will complete a 14-day quarantine period. 

Speaking after the plane landed in Canada on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said 228 people were on the flight. He said a “limited number” of people who had other medical conditions that are not related to COVID-19 will stay behind to be treated in California.

Champagne said there are also some Canadian crew who were on the Grand Princess who tested positive for COVID-19 who will stay in the U.S. for treatment. He did not specify how many Canadians tested positive.

Some of the Canadians who were aboard a cruise ship off the coast of California have arrived in Ontario and will spend 14 days in quarantine. 4:51

Officials had previously said there were 237 Canadians among the 3,500 passengers and crew on board the Grand Princess cruise ship.

The repatriated travellers arrived a day after Canada reported its first COVID-19 related death. A man in his 80s who lived at a long-term care facility in B.C. died on Monday, provincial health officials said.

Ontario health officials announced on Tuesday a new case of the novel coronavirus — a man in his 40s who had travelled to Switzerland. 

As of 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday, 80 presumptive and confirmed COVID-19 cases had been reported in Canada, including:

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, reiterated on Monday that the risk from the coronavirus to the general population in Canada is low, but she cautioned that the situation could change rapidly. 

“We are most concerned for Canada’s vulnerable populations,” Tam said.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said some provinces have indicated they don’t have all the supplies they might need to respond to COVID-19 cases.

“We are gathering that information — and we have said all along that we will be there as a federal government to support them with the resources they need, whether those are financial resources or practical resources.”

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

Fear has been rising in the United States, where more than 750 people are infected and even some top political leaders were quarantined.

President Donald Trump was planning to announce proposals Tuesday aimed at curbing the economic fallout from the outbreak. He said the measures would include payroll tax relief.

WATCH: Weighing the risks of mass gatherings during the coronavirus outbreak

A look at what risks are taken into consideration when deciding where a mass gathering, like a conference, is cancelled. 1:59

After days of questioning about testing capacity, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday that about 4,900 people have been tested for the coronavirus in U.S. labs as of Monday. That number does not include Americans who have been tested in clinical or private labs, Robert Redfield said. 

Redfield said that as of Monday, private companies Laboratory Corp of America and Quest Diagnostics have enough coronavirus tests available that any U.S. doctor’s office who uses those companies can have their patients tested.

People living in the U.S. also got some information on how private insurance companies will respond to COVID-19. Speaking at a White House meeting with insurance company executives, Vice-President Mike Pence said the companies have agreed to cover coronavirus treatment and waive co-payment fees for coronavirus testing

The companies have also agreed to cover telemedicine for patients to get care without having to leave home, Pence added. 

Here’s what’s happening in Italy and Europe

The Italian government is assuring its citizens that supermarkets will remain open and stocked after panic buying erupted after broad anti-virus measures were announced nationwide, sparking overnight runs on 24-hour markets.

Some 9,172 people were infected in Italy and 463 have died, and there was a growing sense the numbers would only worsen.

Shoppers lined up overnight outside a Rome Carrefour to stock up after the government extended restrictions on movement from hard-hit northern Italy to the rest of the country. Some shoppers wore masks as they waited with their carts to be allowed into the store a few at a time.

Premier Giuseppe Conte’s office issued a clarifying statement after he signed the new decree late Monday, stressing that movement outside homes for “normal necessities” such as grocery shopping will be allowed, as well as for work or health reasons.

WATCH: Canadian describes life under lockdown in northern Italy

Don’t panic and stay calm, says Canadian living under virus lockdown in Italy. 6:15

The statement said runs on supermarkets were contrary to the intent of the new decree, which aims to prevent Italians from congregating. The government assured citizens that markets would be regularly supplied.

However, hard-hit Italy got a reminder that most patients ultimately recover from the illness: a 38-year-old man who was Italy’s first coronavirus patient was moved out of intensive care for the first time since testing positive.

In France, the death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 30. Poland, which is reporting 17 cases, moved to cancel all mass events. The number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the U.K. has risen to 373, up from 319 the day before, health officials said on Tuesday.

Earlier, the health ministry said a sixth person had died in Britain after acquiring the virus.

The Czech Republic, which has 40 confirmed cases, is banning all public events with more than 100 people and is closing schools.

Austria is introducing border checks and will deny entry to people arriving from Italy, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday.

Here’s what’s happening in Iran and the Middle East

Iran said Tuesday the coronavirus has killed 54 more people, raising the death toll to 291 amid 8,042 reported cases in the Islamic Republic. Many experts fear the scope of the illness there is far wider than reported.

Lebanon recorded its first death from coronavirus on Tuesday, local broadcasters said, adding that the patient had been in quarantine since returning from Egypt. The government has halted flights for non-residents from epicentres of the virus, shut schools and warned against public gatherings as the total number of cases rose to 41 this week.

Here’s what’s happening in South Korea and Japan

A downward trend in new coronavirus cases in South Korea raised hope on Tuesday that Asia’s biggest outbreak outside China may be slowing, but officials urged vigilance with new clusters of infections emerging from a call centre and a dance class. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 35 new coronavirus cases, down from a peak of 909 on Feb. 29.

The new figures brought the national tally to 7,513, while the death toll rose by eight to 59. The fall in the daily tally of new infections to its lowest level in 11 days coincided with the completion of testing of most of the roughly 200,000 followers of a fringe Christian church at the centre of South Korea’s epidemic.

Workers at a building where 46 people were confirmed to have COVID-19 wait in line for a coronavirus test at a temporary facility in Seoul on Tuesday. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy at the health ministry, urged businesses to do what they could to help stem the outbreak after the discovery of 64 new cases among call-centre workers and their relatives. “The rate of increase is declining but there are still many new cases,” Yoon told a briefing.

The vast majority of South Korea’s cases have been in the southeastern city of Daegu, where the church at the centre of the outbreak is based, and the nearby province of North Gyeongsang. But alarm has been raised in the capital, Seoul, with the new cases there linked to the call centre, operated by an insurance company.

Japan, which has been dealing with both domestic patients and hundreds of people who were infected while living under quarantine on a cruise ship, passed an emergency bill that allows the prime minister to declare a state of emergency, if needed.

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