- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Chinese officials shut down all transportation out of the city of Wuhan, trying to contain a mysterious illness Wednesday as the death toll climbed to 17 and more than 540 people were reported to be infected with the rapidly spreading virus.

All outbound flights, rail service, ferries and public transportation have been “temporarily” suspended in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province with a population of more than 11 million, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

All 17 deaths and most of the 547 reported infections have been in Hubei, although other areas such as Beijing, Shanghai and the southern province of Guangdong have reported cases of the new coronavirus, Chinese officials said.

On Wednesday, a day after the first U.S. coronavirus case was reported in Washington state, President Trump said the federal government is prepared to deal with the health threat.

“We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine,” Mr. Trump told CNBC in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum.

Mr. Trump said he trusts Chinese President Xi Jinping to be transparent about the spread of the virus in Hubei province, located roughly halfway between Beijing and Hong Kong. He cited his cooperation with Mr. Xi in crafting a phase 1 trade deal, which they signed at the White House this month.

“I have a great relationship with President Xi. We just signed probably the biggest deal ever made,” Mr. Trump told CNBC.

Besides China, five other countries including the U.S. have reported coronavirus infections. Thailand has reported four cases, and Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have reported one each.

WTTG in Washington reported Wednesday that 21 students and five chaperones from Hubei province arrived Monday to participate in a school exchange program at Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church, Virginia.

Fairfax County Public Schools told the television station that the Chinese students and their chaperones will not participate in classes at the school and will stay in hotels, not with host families, until Jan. 29 “out of an abundance of caution.” None of the students has shown any signs of infection.

WTTG reported that the students arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have established screening protocols for passengers arriving from China.

The CDC also has set up screening operations at Los Angeles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The World Health Organization said after an emergency meeting Wednesday that it had not decided whether to categorize the viral outbreak in China as a global health crisis. The international health agency will reconvene Thursday.

Despite Mr. Trump’s assurances, some have expressed skepticism about China’s commitment to transparency after the communist government’s lag in reporting cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and 2003 that killed hundreds.

However, Chinese officials appear to be doing a better job with the new coronavirus, said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.

“There were delays in reporting SARS in 2003, but thus far there appears to be a great degree of transparency and real-time information sharing going on,” Mr. Adalja told The Washington Times. “For example, the virus’ genetic sequence was shared rapidly. The Chinese head of state has made control of this outbreak a priority.”

Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, acknowledged that China reported the novel virus promptly but said he has reason to doubt Beijing’s honesty and transparency after its lack of action with the SARS outbreak.

“We were told that China had everything under control. It didn’t. We were told they were doing thorough contact tracing. They weren’t. The cases spread over China, parts of Asia and the U.S. were not on known contact lists,” Mr. Gostin said. “In other words, China allowed infected or exposed people to board planes not even aware of the potential for spreading the disease regionally and globally.”

The coronavirus, which typically affects animals but can spread to humans, has caused global alarm after health officials determined this week that it can spread between humans.

Still, U.S. health officials say the threat of the illness is low for Americans, though the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier said she anticipates the outbreak to spread.

Officials have linked the coronavirus to a seafood market in Wuhan that reportedly sold wild animals illegally. The market closed Jan. 1 for cleaning and disinfection.

No vaccine is available for coronavirus, which causes fever and cough and can lead to serious respiratory illness. The National Institutes of Health and other research centers are working to develop quick diagnostic tests and treatments, thanks to the public release of the coronavirus’ genetic sequence.

“It is very early in the trajectory of this outbreak, and there are several unanswered questions. What we know is that this is a newly discovered human coronavirus that is causing a range of respiratory illness — some mild, some deadly,” Dr. Adalja said.

He said it will be important to discover whether the coronavirus usually causes mild illness or whether it is more like SARS or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which have “a greater capacity for severe illness.”

It also will be vital to figure out how common human-to-human transmission is and how the virus is spread this way.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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