UAE records two new coronavirus cases, total number reaches 11

DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates said on Friday it had registered two new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of people diagnosed with the virus in the Gulf Arab state to 11.

The new cases in the UAE were detected in a 34-year-old Filipino national and a 39-year-old Bangladeshi national who had contact with a Chinese national who had been diagnosed with the virus, the health ministry said in a statement.

It said the two were in stable condition.

More than 2,100 people have died in China from the new virus that emerged in Wuhan in December. New research suggesting the virus is more contagious than previously thought has added to the international alarm over the outbreak.

The UAE, a major international air transit centre and tourism and business hub, recorded its first coronavirus case on Jan. 28 when four members of a Chinese family were diagnosed.

It has since suspended passenger flights to mainland China, with the exception of Beijing.

Most of those diagnosed in the UAE with the virus have been Chinese citizens. Another Filipino national and one Indian national have also been infected, according to the health ministry.

Three of those previously diagnosed, all Chinese nationals, have fully recovered, the ministry has said.

The government has not disclosed where patients were being treated or which parts of the country they visited.

(Reporting by Alaa Swilam in Cairo; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Ros Russell)

South Korea city deserted after coronavirus church ‘super-spreader’

y Hyonhee Shin and Ryan Woo

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – The streets of South Korea’s fourth-largest city were abandoned on Thursday, with residents holed up indoors after dozens of people caught the coronavirus in what the authorities described as a “super-spreading event” at a church.

The deserted shopping malls and cinemas of Daegu, a city of 2.5 million people, became one of the most striking images outside China of an outbreak that international authorities are trying to prevent from spreading into a global pandemic.

New research suggesting the virus was more contagious than previously thought added to the alarm. And in China, where the virus has killed more than 2,100 people, officials changed their methodology for reporting infections, creating new doubt about data they have been citing as evidence of success in fighting its spread.

Deagu Mayor Kwon Young-jin told residents to stay indoors after 90 people who worshipped at the Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony showed symptoms of infection and dozens of new cases were confirmed.

The church had been attended by a 61-year-old woman who tested positive, known as “Patient 31”. Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the outbreak there as a “super-spreading event”.

“We are in an unprecedented crisis,” Kwon told reporters, adding that all members of the church would be tested. “We’ve asked them to stay at home isolated from their families.”

Describing the abandoned streets, resident Kim Geun-woo, 28, told Reuters by telephone: “It’s like someone dropped a bomb in the middle of the city. It looks like a zombie apocalypse.”

South Korea now has 104 confirmed cases of the flu-like virus, and reported its first death.

In China, officials have been pointing to evidence that new cases were declining as proof they are succeeding in keeping the virus largely contained to Hubei Province and its capital Wuhan, where the virus initially emerged.

But revisions to their methodology have raised doubts about the data. Under the latest methodology, which excludes chest X-rays, China reported fewer than 400 new cases over the past day, less than a quarter of the number it had been finding in recent days under the previous method.

Only last week, another change in Chinese methodology created an overnight spike of nearly 15,000 new cases, reversing a trend of falling numbers that Chinese officials had previously touted as evidence their disease-fighting strategy was working.

Scientists in China who studied nose and throat swabs from 18 patients infected with the virus said it behaves much more like influenza than other closely related viruses, suggesting it may spread even more easily than previously believed.

In at least in one case, the virus was present even though the patient had no symptoms, suggesting symptom-free patients could spread the disease, they wrote in preliminary findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“If confirmed, this is very important,” said Dr Gregory Poland, a vaccine researcher with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved with the study.

China has imposed severe controls in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, to halt the spread of the virus, and has taken urgent steps to keep the overall economy from crashing.

On Thursday, its central bank cut a borrowing rate, while the authorities extended an order for businesses in Wuhan to shut down until March 11. Schools in the city, which had been due to re-open on Friday, will also stay shut.

TWO CRUISE SHIP PASSENGERS DIE

Japan reported the deaths of two elderly passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored off Yokohama. They appear to be the first people to have died from the disease from aboard the ship, the biggest cluster of infection outside mainland China with more than 620 cases.

Japan has begun allowing passengers who test negative to disembark from the ship. Hundreds departed on Wednesday and hundreds more were set to leave on Thursday.

The ship was carrying about 3,700 people when quarantined on Feb. 3, about half of them from Japan. Japanese passengers were permitted to go home once cleared to leave; other countries are flying passengers home and keeping them isolated on arrival.

Japan, which is due to host the summer Olympics in July, had faced criticism over its strategy of quarantining people on board the ship. Its National Institute of Infections Diseases published data which it said supported its strategy, showing that the onset of symptoms from confirmed cases had peaked on Feb. 7 and tailed off to zero by Feb. 15.

The NIID report was “very reassuring,” said Kentaro Iwata, an infectious disease specialist from Kobe University Hospital who had been one of the harshest critics of the quarantine.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Additional reporting by Linda Sieg, Chang-Ran Kim, Akiko Okamoto, Ju-min Park and Daewong Kim in Tokyo, Sangmi Cha in Seoul, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Keith Zhai and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in Vientiane; Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

U.S. measles outbreak spreads to Idaho and Virginia, hits 1,022 cases

FILE PHOTO: A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

The United States’ worst measles outbreak in a quarter-century spread to Idaho and Virginia last week as public health authorities on Monday reported 41 new cases of the highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease.

The U.S. has recorded 1,022 cases of the diseases this year as of June 6, in an outbreak blamed on misinformation about vaccines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The 2019 outbreak, which has reached 28 states, is the worst since 1992, when 2,126 cases were recorded.

Federal health officials attribute this year’s outbreak to U.S. parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. These parents believe, contrary to scientific evidence, that ingredients in the vaccine can cause autism.

“We cannot say this enough: Vaccines are a safe and highly effective public health tool that can prevent this disease and end the current outbreak,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement last week.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning there was no continuous transmission of the disease for a year. Still, cases of the virus occur and spread via travelers coming from countries where measles is common.

CDC officials have warned that the country risks losing its measles elimination status if the ongoing outbreak, which began in October 2018 in New York, continues until October 2019.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Aakash Jagadeesh Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)