China expands chaotic dragnet in coronavirus crackdown

Medical personnel checking body temperatures at a roadblock in Guangzhou, China, on Feb 13, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (NYTIMES) - China's leaders expanded a mass round-up of people possibly sickened by the coronavirus on Thursday (Feb 13), widening their dragnet well beyond the epicentre of the outbreak to at least two more cities in what the government has called a "wartime" campaign to stamp out the epidemic.

But the campaign, first announced last week in the city of Wuhan, already has been marred by chaotic conditions that have isolated vulnerable patients without adequate care and, in some cases, left them alone to die.

The expansion of the decree to "round up everyone who should be rounded up" in the Wuhan area of central China has deepened the nation's sense of anxiety.

In their zeal to execute the edict, officials in Wuhan, a metropolis of 11 million, have haphazardly seized patients who have not yet tested positive for the coronavirus, in some cases herding them onto buses with no protective measures, where they risked infection from others, their relatives said.

After that, patients have been sent to makeshift medical facilities that don't provide the support they need to recover. With little to no dedicated medical staff on hand to help, some patients die.

A sudden spike in new cases could make the situation worse. Officials in Hubei province announced on Thursday that they had expanded the criteria for counting new infections to include diagnoses by doctors based on a chest scan and symptoms, rather than a more complicated test.

The tally from the outbreak surged as a result, with the province adding nearly 15,000 new cases and 242 new deaths in a single day.

The surge continued on Friday when Hubei officials disclosed about 4,800 new cases and 116 additional deaths.

Global reverberations have shown no sign of slowing.

On Thursday, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States said a person under quarantine at a military base in San Antonio had tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the US to 15.

In Japan, health officials announced the first death from the virus in the country, a woman in her 80s in Kanagawa prefecture, which includes Yokohama, where more than 200 passengers on a quarantined cruise ship have been infected by the coronavirus.

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