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Chinese doctor who raised early alarm over coronavirus dies

CORONAVIRUS | One of the first Chinese doctors who tried to warn the world about a new coronavirus died on Friday from the illness, prompting an outpouring of sorrow on Chinese social media, as Beijing declared a “people’s war” on the fast-spreading outbreak.

Li Wenliang, 34, was an ophthalmologist at a hospital in Wuhan, the city hardest hit by the outbreak.

He and seven others were reprimanded by Wuhan police last month for spreading “illegal and false” information about the coronavirus after he warned doctors on social media about seven cases of a mysterious new virus to try to help other physicians.

Many ordinary Chinese people on social media described Li as a hero and a tragic figure, reflecting the incompetence of local authorities to tackle the emergence of the virus early in the outbreak.

READ MORE: The final days of coronavirus ‘whistleblower’ doctor Li

On Friday, China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, reported 69 new deaths, taking the total in China to over 600. It also reported nearly 2,500 new cases, taking the total in China to over 30,000, according to state television. Figures for all of mainland China were expected to follow shortly.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to reassure his citizens and the world that China would beat the coronavirus.

“The whole country has responded with all its strength to respond with the most thorough and strict prevention and control measures, starting a people’s war for epidemic prevention and control,” Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying in a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

In a striking image of the epidemic’s reach, about 3,700 people moored off Japan on the Diamond Princess faced testing and quarantine for at least two weeks on the ship, which has 20 cases.

In Hong Kong, another cruise ship with 3,600 passengers and crew was quarantined for a second day pending testing with three cases on board. Taiwan, which has 13 cases, banned international cruise ships from docking.

In China, sometimes dubbed the world’s workshop, cities have been shut off, flights cancelled and factories closed, cutting off supply lines crucial to international businesses.

Corporate fallout

Companies including Hyundai Motor Co, Tesla Inc, Ford Motor Co, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Nissan Motor Co Ltd, Airbus, Adidas and Foxconn are taking hits.

Financial analysts have cut China’s growth outlook, with rating agency Moody’s flagging risks for auto sales and output.

Nintendo Co Ltd warned of delays to production and shipping of its Switch console and other goods to the Japan market. Honda Motor Co was considering keeping operations suspended for longer than planned at its three plants in Wuhan, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported.

Indonesia said it stands to lose US$4 billion in tourism if travel from China is disrupted for the whole year.

More than two dozen large trade fairs and industry conferences in Asia, where billions of dollars worth of deals are usually done, have been postponed.

Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, hit by months of anti-government unrest, said the coronavirus was hurting its economy and urged banks to adopt a “sympathetic stance” with borrowers.

But US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he still expected China to maintain its commitment to boost purchases of American goods and services by at least US$200 billion over the next two years, as part of a Phase 1 trade deal.

And stock markets across the world rose, buoyed by record highs on Wall Street and a move by China to halve tariffs on some US goods that emboldened bets the global economy would avoid long-term damage from the virus.

China, which has bristled at being ostracised, was considering delaying an annual meeting of its highest legislative body, the National People’s Congress, from March 5, sources said.

Rush for HIV drug

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was too early to say the outbreak was peaking.

One Chinese official said the crisis could be nearing its peak, with just over 1,300 patients discharged from hospitals, although the number of new patients diagnosed with coronavirus was still rising.

“I have full confidence that we’re going to get ahead of it,” the official said. “The biggest challenge is still to control the spread of the disease, and let all the suspected patients be cured in the hospital.”

Devy, a 38-year-old from Shandong province, said he was among hundreds who had asked people with HIV for antiviral medicine.

“When you are left alone, seeing the blur shadow of death far away, I think no one can feel calm,” Devy told Reuters.

People were also desperate for face masks. The city of Dali, in southwestern Yunnan province, with only eight confirmed cases of the virus, was accused of intercepting a shipment of masks bound for a municipality with 400 cases.

In the overwhelmed province of Hubei, authorities said they needed another 2,250 medical staff at least.

Around a nation unaccustomed to widespread working from home, the epidemic has forced millions of white-collar workers to get used to just that.

- Reuters