WHO Directors calls for a balance between sounding the alarm and hysteria as investigators arrive in China. The White House last week indicated that it does not trust the figures being released by Chinese authorities as Chinese security services silence bloggers and citizen journalists in a crackdown.

Thailand has announced the 35th infection for the coronavirus as the country tightens screening on passengers from Hong Kong and Singapore. Thai authorities are also thought to be taking further steps to monitor provinces popular with tourists as the path of the epidemic both in China and worldwide is believed to be on a knife-edge and giving rise to grave concern. US tech billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates has warned that if the virus were to take hold in Africa, it could lead to 10 million deaths because of that continent’s lack of healthcare infrastructure.

The permanent secretary of the Thai Ministry of Health Sukhum Kanchanapimai (right) who announced the 35th coronavirus infection in Thailand on Monday. It comes as China reported another two thousand infections and the World Health Organisation has sent another fact-finding team to that country. WHO Executive Director Mike Ryan (inset) called over the weekend for solidarity between all sides as distrust and divisions emerge between China and the United States over the outbreak. US President Donald Trump (inset) has praised the Cambodian leader Hun Sen for allowing the cruise liner Westerdam to dock and disembark last week in that kingdom. Among the ship’s passenger list of 1,400 people, there were over 650 Americans.

Thailand announced another Convid 19 coronavirus infection on Monday bringing the total number infected to 35. The news was announced by Sukhum Kanchanapimai, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health.

The latest patient is a 60-year-old woman from China who is related to a family whose members each came down with the disease. This means that nine cases of the 35 infections in Thailand relate to this one family.

Twenty infected with the virus now in hospital

Thailand currently has 20 patients in care suffering from the virus with 15 patients having already been discharged from hospital.

However, the cases of two patents are said to be serious. Both have recently been treated with a convalescent plasma which involves introducing blood from and consequently antibodies from patients who have recovered for the disease, a treatment that is also now being used by Chinese doctors in Wuhan.

Two patients in a serious and critical condition

One of the patients is reported to be an elderly taxi driver who is already suffering from TB while the other is a younger man. Both patients have respiratory problems with one having developed an acute condition and the other is using a respirator in addition to a treatment called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

The 34th case of the Convid 19 virus was also announced over the weekend. It involved the first health worker in the kingdom to be struck down by the virus.

A 35-year-old nurse had been working in a private hospital when she developed a fever, cough and a feeling of exhaustion.

Nurse in a private hospital contracted the virus by failing to wear a face mask and protective clothing

A test proved positive for the virus and an investigation showed that she had treated a patient who later went on to develop the virus without a face mask or protective clothing.

Chinese assurance that the Convid 19 coronavirus is coming under control must be treated sceptically

Many believe that this is a critical time for the fight against the virus and are wary of assurances from Chinese authorities that the situation is being brought under control by highlighting lower increases in infections outside Hubei province. 

This follows the bombshell last Thursday when the number of confirmed infections from the virus skyrocketed due to new reporting requirements from Hubei. Since then, there have also been a large number of new infections and deaths recorded.

Risen from 300 to 70,551 infection since mid-January

The current death toll in China rose to 1,770 on Monday with 105 new deaths and nearly 2,000 new infections bringing the total number infected to 70,551.

In mid-January, Chinese authorities were saying the situation was under control when the number infected stood at 300.

US does not have confidence in Chinese data emanating from Beijing in linked with the epidemic

The United States has indicated that it has little trust in the numbers emanating from China.

Last week, a spokesperson at the White House stated unequivocally that it did ‘not have high confidence in the information coming out of China’ when discussing the outbreak with the CNBC business news channel.

China has refused access to US scientists

The distrust between the two world powers on the issue has been heightened by China’s refusal to allow American experts from the US Centers for Disease Control to enter China and study the coronavirus outbreak in Hubei province and more particularly in Wuhan where the epidemic seems to continue to have a more serious impact. 

US agencies are also letting it be known that they believe that China is suppressing scientific information about the outbreak out of fear that it will lead to further public alarm and panic.

Underlined concerns about all Chinese ‘man-made’ government data prepared by the Communist Party

The outbreak has also heightened overarching doubts about China’s communist party apparatus and notably, the veracity and trustworthiness of Chinese economic data which even the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang admitted some time ago could not be trusted at a provincial level.

He described such data as ‘man-made’ and encouraged observers to look at external reference points such as electricity consumption.

US professor – all Chinese economic data since 1997 has been suspect and divorced from reality

A professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh, Thomas Rawski, has studied China extensively and believes, for instance, that Chinese data since the 1997 Asian financial crisis has become detached from reality. Today, he feels the same is true with health issues. 

‘Thinking about the flu business, it is entirely the same as the GDP issues,’ he has observed. ‘In both cases, there are a lot of technical issues as well as what I call veracity issues. And there’s the question of motivation of people collecting and reporting the data at all levels, and you have to ask is there an incentive to distort. I think the answer is obviously yes.’

After the death of hero Chinese doctor – the Chinese government has not changed its approach to unwelcome news with a new crackdown

The death of Doctor Li Wenliang this month from the Chinese coronavirus has prompted many in China to question what is happening in the country.

The doctor who first exposed the virus and who came to be vindicated by both China’s Supreme Court and the Communist Party has come to be seen as a hero.

However, the response from Chinese authorities has not been one of greater transparency and openness. Quite the opposite. 

Xi Jinping calls for tighter policing in China

The Chinese President has called for even tighter policing in China. In a speech on February 3rd which was published last week, the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, called for an increased ‘use of police force and strengthen the visible use of police’ in the communist country. He said it was necessary to protect social stability.

Citizen bloggers, activists and journalists being arrested and disappearing in the last week

Several high profile citizen reporters and activists disappeared last week. One was a businessman who had become a reporter in response to the shocking conditions he saw around him in Wuhan.

Known as Fang Bin, this Chinese man’s videos which have been authenticated by western news agencies, captured the reality of what is going on in Wuhan’s hospitals.

On February 1st, Fang Bin published what is undoubtedly among the most harrowing footage of this epidemic when he showed people coming to terms with the death of loved ones at his local hospital and later a van with 8 body bags in the back parked outside.

Businessman turned journalist Fang Bin whose authenticated and groundbreaking reporting in Wuhan informed the world arrested on February 10th 

He was arrested shortly afterwards and released hours later after an online campaign to ‘save Fang Bin’ erupted on social media.

However, on February 9th his social media communications were shut down after he appeared online crying out of fear and frustration. He highlighted the earlier disappearance of a lawyer-activist known as Chien Quishi. He indicated that there were security police on all sides of his apartment.

On February 10th, the security services broke into his apartment and arrested him. He has not been heard of since.

World Health Organisation trying to maintain balance and pursue its critical role in this crisis

The body responsible for coordinating action what is turning rapidly into a worldwide epidemic given that there are now over 1,100 recorded infections outside of China has however warned against US Chinese tensions coming to bear on the world’s response. 

At a news conference in Geneva in recent days, Dr Mike Ryan, the Irish Executive Director of the WHO Emergency programme appealed for solidarity while noting the political tensions. ‘Please, let our scientists get on. Let our public health professionals get on. Let them work together,’ he implored.

A 12 member team from WHO travelled to China over the weekend to work with Chinese officials in analysing the nature of the virus and the response to it.

‘This is the time for solidarity, not stigma’

In January, the Director-General of WHO, while declaring a global emergency, also cautioned against steps that may interfere with trade and movement at that point concerning China and the rest of the world. ‘This is the time for facts, not fear. This is the time for science, not rumours. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma,’ he said then.

A balance between raising the alarm and creating hysteria called for by WHO boss at Munich conference

In Munich over the weekend, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appeared extremely concerned about the threat from the virus. He said it was impossible to predict what will happen from this particular point.

He called for a balance between raising the alarm about the threat and hysteria. ‘We ask all governments, companies, and news organisations to work with us to sound the appropriate level of alarm without fanning the flames of hysteria.’

Bill Gates warns that if the virus is not controlled, it could wreak havoc in Africa if it takes hold

Over the weekend, the billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates issued a disturbing prognosis: ‘This is a huge challenge, we’ve always known the potential for a naturally caused, or intentionally caused, pandemic is one of the few things that could disrupt health systems and economies and cause more than 10 million excess deaths.’

Thailand intensifies screening of visitors from Hong Kong and Singapore in the latest move

Thailand, in the meantime, is reported to be making moves to step up screening of arrivals from Hong Kong and Singapore where the virus has hit hard.

Dr Thanarak Phaliphat, deputy director of the Disease Control Department told the media on Monday: ‘We are closely monitoring the situation in both locations. Also if the numbers continue to rise at this rate in the next few days, we will increase the screening level for people coming from there.’

The senior official said that this will mean that visitors from Singapore and Hong Kong will be treated the same as Chinese visitors if they exhibit any problematic symptoms.

Westerdam cruise ship passengers still banned from entering Thailand – US passenger tests positive

Thailand has also confirmed that any passengers from the Westerdam cruise liner that docked in Cambodia will not be allowed to enter Thailand.

Thai officials had last week refused permission for the ship to dock. There followed a situation this weekend where an elderly American woman tested positive for the virus while boarding a plane in Malaysia after being cleared before disembarking from the liner last week after it docked in Cambodia.

21 Thai nationals who were on board the ship also face 14 days quarantine when entering the kingdom.

Trump praises Cambodia’s welcome for the Westerdam and promises to remember the gesture

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has praised and thanked the Cambodian leader Hun Sen for allowing the Westerdam to dock at a port near Sihanoukville.

Over 650 of the 1,400 passengers on board were American. Trump said that the US would remember Cambodia’s cooperation and help.

Trump has also sparked controversy by suggesting that the virus in China will disappear once temperatures rise.

Thailand also looking at precautions for popular tourist provinces in the kingdom most at risk

Thai officials at the Disease Control Department have also said that they are considering extra precautions with popular tourist provinces including Bangkok, Chonburi, Chiang Mai, Chaing Rai, Krabi and Phuket as the country reviews its stance on protecting Thai people from the threat.

Thailand launches self-screening online service for the Covid 19 virus available to everyone in Thailand

The Ministry of Health in conjunction with Chiang Mai University and the National Research Council of Thailand has launched an online self-screening service for the Thai public and those residing in Thailand who wish to test for the virus.

The system is a basic questionnaire which gives 3 key responses including no symptoms, consult with a GP and seek urgent medical attention depending on the answers received.

Users in Thailand can access the Convid 19 coronavirus self-screen facility here.

Further reading:

Tourism minister gets real about tourism – arrivals down by 50%, pushes late night opening hours

Bombshell from China as deaths and infections surge linked with a lack of virus test kits in Hubei

Minister denies the government is prioritising tourism over safety tackling the Chinese corona virus

Bank interest rate cut anticipated as a devastated tourism industry battles with the Chinese coronavirus threat