A US national in China is believed to be the first foreigner to die from the Wuhan coronavirus, authorities confirmed Saturday, while a Japanese man suspected of having the virus in Wuhan has died of pneumonia.
The US Embassy in Beijing confirmed a 60-year-old American national had died on Thursday at the Jinyintian Hospital in Wuhan, while the Chinese government offered condolences for the death of “a Chinese-American.”
News of the deaths come after mainland China suffered its deadliest day Friday since the outbreak in December. Eight-six new deaths were reported, bringing the total up to 722, while the number of cases rose to 34,546 by the end of the day, according to China’s National Health Commission. Two others have died outside mainland China.
Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a Japanese man in his 60s died in Wuhan of pneumonia. The hospital that treated him was inconclusive on the cause, but he was highly suspected of having a coronavirus infection.
To stop the virus from spreading further, Beijing has taken the unprecedented step of trying to quarantine entire cities in Hubei. About 60 million people are under various travel restrictions, as roads are blocked, train stations closed and flights canceled.
Three stuck ships
Thousands of people are trapped on three cruise liners in Asia due to fears surrounding coronavirus among their passengers.
A ship in Japan, the Diamond Princess, and another in Hong Kong, the World Dream, have both been quarantined after it emerged they had hosted infected passengers.
A third ship, the Westerdam, has been turned away from various ports due to fears that there may be coronavirus cases on board. There is no suggestion that any passengers, current or former, have been infected.
Sixty-four passengers from the Diamond Princess have tested positive for the virus and been taken ashore for isolation and treatment, Japanese authorities said. About 2,600 guests and more than 1,000 crew are on board, including hundreds of Americans. They will likely stay in quarantine until February 19.
A CNN reporter in Yokohama near the Diamond Princess overheard the captain announcing a plan to improve conditions aboard the ship, including medical supplies, better internet signal and a hotline for people to call for emotional support.
The Japanese military would carry out a transfer of test results and medicine into the cruise ship to top up people’s prescriptions, he said.
He also said he appreciated letters of support from people on board, and read out the phone number for the emotional support hotline.
He said the cruise ship was due to arrive in Yokohama Port at 9 a.m. on Sunday and that extra medical staff would come on board to help with prescriptions and tests. He said he would allow guests to get out onto the deck again on Sunday.
Passengers had told CNN earlier that they were being confined to their cabins, except for around one hour a day where they could leave their rooms under supervision.
Governments worldwide appear to be exercising caution in stemming the spread of the virus, issuing various levels of travel warnings for travel to China and increasing screenings of arrivals from the country. Several major airlines have canceled or scaled back flights to and from mainland China.
A doctor is mourned
Many in China are still mourning the death of Li Wenliang, who was one of the first people to sound the alarm over the coronavirus.
Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist from Wuhan, was widely hailed as a hero after it emerged he was targeted by police for spreading “rumors” about the virus, when he was, in fact, trying to raise the alarm.
After contracting the virus, Li’s condition worsened in the early hours of Friday morning and he died. The outpouring of grief and anger on Chinese social media platforms was immediate – and almost unprecedented. The anguish was made worse by initial confusion as state media first published then retracted reports of his death, leading to allegations they were trying to cover it up or control the story.
“I knew you would post this in the middle of the night,” read one popular post on Weibo, one of China’s largest social media platforms. “You think we’ve all gone to sleep? No. We haven’t.”
The topics “Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang an apology,” and “We want freedom of speech,” soon began to trend on China’s Twitter-like platform, Weibo. Each gained tens of thousands of views before disappearing from the heavily censored platform.
Another topic, called “I want freedom of speech,” had drawn 1.8 million views as of 5 a.m. Friday morning local time (4 p.m. ET Thursday).
As the grief and rage poured out, those in charge of China’s vast censorship apparatus, the Great Firewall, seemed at a loss over what to do. Topics relating to censorship itself, usually absolutely verboten, trended for several hours before being deleted, rare evidence of indecision and confusion.
On Friday, China’s National Supervisory Commission, the country’s top anti-corruption agency, announced in a statement that it would send a team to Wuhan to investigate Li’s death, “in response to issues raised by the masses.”
The short statement did not elaborate on the nature of the “issues” raised.
CNN’s Lily Lee reported from Beijing and Joshua Berlinger reported from Hong Kong. Chermaine Lee, Ben Westcott, James Griffiths, Sandi Sidhu and Angela Dewan contributed reporting