Coronavirus: Quarantine ordered as nearly a third of cases in Tianjin linked to shopping centre

A device that sprays disinfectant at an entrance to a residential compound in Tianjin, China. Of 102 confirmed cases in Tianjin, at least 33 patients worked or shopped at a department store in the Baodi district. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (NYTIMES) - Nearly a third of the confirmed coronavirus cases in Tianjin, a city of more than 15 million about 112km south-east of Beijing, have been linked to one department store, adding to fears about rapid transmission in tightly clustered communities.

Of 102 confirmed cases in the city, at least 33 patients worked or shopped at a department store in the Baodi district, or had close contact with employees or customers, according to Tianjin health authorities.

Many of them had no history of travel to Wuhan, the city where the outbreak emerged.

Officials estimated that 11,700 customers had visited the shopping complex during a period in late January.

Authorities said that those customers would be quarantined, and that the store itself, which they did not identify, had been sealed and disinfected.

It was not immediately clear how authorities had tracked the shoppers, but health officials in the city have put out alerts on social media and on state news outlets urging residents to contact the government if they visited the store recently.

News reports also said residents had been asked at various checkpoints in the city if they had been there.

In addition, emergency measures were imposed over sections of Baodi - home to nearly 1 million people - with all but two entrances and exits for certain residential areas sealed off and security personnel on round-the-clock patrols. Some residents were allowed to leave their homes only once every two days.


Hong Kong officials have put into quarantine dozens of residents of one apartment building after two people who live on different floors of the building were found to be infected with the coronavirus, authorities said on Tuesday.

The two cases appeared to suggest that the virus had spread through the building, perhaps through a pipe, raising new fears about how the virus spreads.

In all, quarantines were ordered for residents of more than 30 units of the Hong Mei House, which is part of the Cheung Hong Estate, a public housing block in the New Territories area of the city.

Officials from the city's Centre for Health Protection said the quarantine decision was made after an unsealed pipe was found in the apartment of a newly confirmed patient, a 62-year-old woman.

She lives 10 floors below a resident who was earlier found to be infected.

Five more people living in different units displayed symptoms of the coronavirus, but all tested negative, officials said.

At a government-organised news briefing on Tuesday, Dr Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said that the exact route of transmission had not been confirmed, but that an exhaust pipe in one infected household appeared not to be airtight.

There are now 49 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Hong Kong, health officials said, including three extended family members of the 62-year-old woman living in the building.


A senior Chinese official warned on Tuesday that three populous provinces could be vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus as migrant workers return to their jobs after the Lunar New Year break.

The official, Mr He Qinghua, said that the provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong and Henan could see a rise in new cases, even as the rate of infections declined outside Hubei province, the heart of the outbreak.

The remarks highlight the looming possibility that more people could become infected as they resume their normal routines.

Government officials extended China's official Lunar New Year holiday by three days to keep people home.

Major business hubs, like the cities of Beijing and Shanghai and the provinces of Guangdong and Shandong, then further extended holidays until Monday.

Mr He, who spoke at a news briefing in Beijing, was responding to comments made by Mr Gauden Galea, the China representative for the World Health Organisation.

Mr Galea told Bloomberg TV on Monday that the organisation had found the numbers of cases slowly rising in 10 provinces. He said that it was too soon to say the epidemic had peaked.


A British businessman believed to be the source of a cluster of coronavirus cases in Britain and in France came forward on Tuesday, saying that he had fully recovered but would remain in isolation as a precaution.

The businessman, Mr Steve Walsh, from Hove, in southern England, contracted the virus while at a conference in Singapore last month, according to his representatives, before travelling on to a chalet in the French Alpine resort of Les Contamines-Montjoie.

Five more of Britain's eight known coronavirus cases are linked to Mr Walsh or the chalet, as are those of five British people in France.

Mr Walsh thanked his doctors in a statement released by a public relations firm representing him and his employer.

"Whilst I have fully recovered, my thoughts are with others who have contracted coronavirus," he added.

On Monday evening, British public health officials said that two of the cases in the cluster were healthcare workers and that they had been advised to isolate themselves.

"We are now working urgently to identify all patients and other healthcare workers who may have come into close contact, and at this stage we believe this to be a relatively small number," Dr Yvonne Doyle, the medical director of Public Health England, said in a statement.


The death toll from the coronavirus epidemic is continuing to climb, Chinese officials said on Tuesday.

By the end of Monday, the government said, 1,016 people had officially died from the coronavirus - an increase of 108 from the previous day. Most of the deaths occurred in Hubei province.

The number of confirmed infections in China also grew, to at least 42,638 from about 40,000 a day earlier.

Most of the infections are in Hubei, though the daily tally of new cases there fell compared with previous days.

Hubei recorded 2,097 new infections on Monday, compared with 2,618 a day earlier.

"With 99 per cent of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world," the director-general of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Tuesday.


One of the people evacuated to the United States from Wuhan last week is infected with the coronavirus, UC San Diego Health said in a statement.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention shared the diagnosis on Monday, the hospital said; the patient had previously been discharged after testing negative.

The patient, one of 167 passengers on a State Department-arranged flight, has since returned to the hospital near Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

It is the 13th confirmed case in the United States, and the seventh in California.

Other government-arranged evacuation flights from China in the past two weeks have taken passengers - more than 500 in all - to other bases in California as well as to Nebraska and Texas.

Those evacuated are expected to be quarantined for 14 days, with frequent checks from medical personnel to determine whether they have developed fevers, coughs or other symptoms.


A man accused of imitating a coronavirus victim by collapsing on a subway train in central Moscow this month was arrested and will face up to five years in prison if found guilty, law enforcement officials have said.

In a video of the prank, a man is seen collapsing in the middle of a subway car. After other passengers try to assist him, he begins convulsing.

Others, believed to be accomplices, shout, "Coronavirus here, move out quickly!"

The yelling prompts a panic in the car, with passengers scrambling for the exits.

The suspect was identified as Karomatullo Dzhabarov, a Moscow district court said on Monday.

Two people suspected of being accomplices in the Feb 2 prank were also held and their homes searched, police said.

An Instagram account apparently belonging to Dzhabarov said, "Friends, we have not touched anybody, we have filmed this video for people to get serious about coronavirus."

At least two coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Russia.


A Holland America cruise ship with more than 2,200 people aboard was denied entry to Thailand on Tuesday over fears that passengers may be carrying the new coronavirus, bringing the total number of ports from which it has been turned away to at least five.

The ship, the Westerdam, which left Hong Kong on Feb 1, had already been turned away in at least five places, including the US territory of Guam, the Philippines and Japan.

Thailand, which has reported more than 30 cases of the virus, had agreed to let the ship dock in Bangkok, but then reversed course.

The country's Prime Minister, Mr Prayut Chan-o-cha, defended the decision to deny the ship entry on Tuesday and said the government would provide the vessel with humanitarian aid.

Holland America has said that no one onboard has come down with the virus.

"The ship is not in quarantine and we have no reason to believe there are any cases of coronavirus on board despite media reports," Holland America said in a statement.

The ship, said to have 1,445 passengers and 802 crew on board, was originally bound for Yokohama, Japan.

It was unclear where the ship would head next. A country may be more willing to accept the ship once it has been afloat for the standard 14-day quarantine period and has no reported cases of the virus.

A different ship, the Diamond Princess, has been docked for more than a week in Yokohama, Japan, where it was put under quarantine after cases of infection were confirmed.

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The total number of cases on board is about 135, including at least 10 crew members.

More than 1,000 crew members will receive two months of paid leave after the end of the ship's isolation period, Princess Cruises said on Tuesday.


A Chinese law professor who blamed China's top leader, Mr Xi Jinping, for failing to contain the coronavirus outbreak has been confined to his home, according to one of his friends.

Professor Xu Zhangrun had published an essay in Chinese, "When Fury Overcomes Fear," which circulated widely on overseas Chinese-language websites last week.

The essay was translated into English and published on ChinaFile, a website that covers China, on Monday.

It argues that Mr Xi and his government have banned the free flow of information and that officials neglected their responsibilities as the outbreak worsened.

Prof Xu, a law professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, wrote that the coronavirus epidemic "has revealed the rotten core of Chinese governance".

"It is true: the level of popular fury is volcanic and a people thus enraged may, in the end, also cast aside their fear," he added.

After publishing the essay, Prof Xu was ordered by Chinese authorities not to leave his home, according to the friend, Mr Rong Jian.

Prof Xu had already been under close surveillance after publishing an essay in 2018 criticising the Chinese Communist Party for lifting the two-term limit on presidents that could allow Mr Xi to remain in office.


The Chinese Communist Party has dismissed two health officials in Hubei, the province at the centre of the epidemic, state-run news outlets reported on Tuesday.

They were the first senior officials to be punished for the government's handling of the outbreak.

The officials were replaced by a deputy head of the National Health Commission, Mr Wang Hesheng, whom Beijing dispatched to the region three days ago to take over the provincial government's response to the crisis, according to state media.

Mr Wang will take over the duties of both officials: Mr Zhang Jin, the Communist Party secretary for Hubei's health commission, and Mr Liu Yingzi, the health commission's director.

Mr Wang previously held a variety of positions overseeing public health and family planning in the city of Tianjin, and on the national level beginning in 2016.

It was not immediately clear whether the dismissals were the beginning of a broader political shake-up in the provincial government, whose response to the outbreak has been widely criticised.

The party secretary and the mayor of Wuhan both offered to resign but have so far remained in their posts.

Until now, only two others have been dismissed in connection with the outbreak: Two officials from Huajiahe were ousted after a disabled teenager died when his father, his sole caregiver, was put into quarantine.

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