China plans to ban the trade in wild animals, believed to be behind the coronavirus as racism spreads worldwide

coronavirus cases
Countries with confirmed coronavirus cases. Photo: ABC News. The photo is used here in public interest.

China said it would ban illegal wildlife markets and trade in light of the Wuhan coronavirus or 2019-nCoV, which has killed at least 426 people and infected more than 20,000. Beyond China, at least 169 cases have been confirmed in 25 countries.

It is widely believed that the Wuhan coronavirus likely started in a wet market, where live and dead animals are often sold in poorly regulated conditions.

The ban on wildlife markets is just one of a number of initiatives China is taking in response to the novel coronavirus.

China also swiftly built two hospitals to accommodate the growing number of patients, and put entire cities under unprecedented quarantine.

The Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful body of the Chinese Communist Party issued a statement Monday recognizing its “shortcomings” in its response to the outbreak, adding that it will “severely crack down” on illegal wildlife markets and trade in light of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

“It is necessary to strengthen market supervision, resolutely ban and severely crack down on illegal wildlife markets and trade, and control major public health risks from the source,” the committee said in the statement.

The Wuhan coronavirus is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it originated in animals. Experts believe the novel coronavirus spread from bats, to snakes, to people. China initially imposed a ban on live animal sales in the city of Wuhan in light of the outbreak.

While there is not yet a vaccine or specific cure for the virus, at least 500 patients have recovered after being treated with a “cocktail” of HIV and other antiviral medicines.

Fear and racism worldwide

Coronavirus has carried with it xenophobia – and Asian communities around the world are finding themselves subject to suspicion and fear.

When a patient on Australia’s Gold Coast refused to shake the hand of her surgeon Rhea Liang, citing the virus that has killed hundreds, the medic’s first response was shock.

But after tweeting about the incident and receiving a flood of responses, the respected doctor learned her experience was all too common.

There has been a spike in reports of anti-Chinese rhetoric directed at people of Asian origin, regardless of whether they have ever visited the centre of the epidemic or been in contact with the virus.

Chinese tourists have reportedly been spat at in the Italian city of Venice, a family in Turin was accused of carrying the disease, and mothers in Milan have used social media to call for children to be kept away from Chinese classmates.

In Canada, a white man was filmed telling a Chinese-Canadian woman “you dropped your coronavirus” in the parking lot of a local mall.

In Malaysia, a petition to “bar Chinese people from entering our beloved country” received almost 500,000 signatures in one week.

The incidents are part of what the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine has described as “misinformation” which it says is fuelling “racial profiling” where “deeply distressing assumptions are being made about ‘Chinese’ or ‘Asian-looking’ people.”

Disease has long been accompanied by suspicions of foreigners – from Irish immigrants being targeted in the Typhoid Mary panic of 1900s America to Nepali peacekeepers being accused of bringing cholera to earthquake-struck Haiti in the last decade.

“It’s a common phenomenon,” said Rob Grenfell, director of health and biosecurity for Australia’s science and research agency CSIRO.

“With outbreaks and epidemics along human history, we’ve always tried to vilify certain subsets of the population,” he said, comparing the behavior to 1300s plague-ridden medieval Europe, where foreigners and religious groups were often blamed.

“Sure it emerged in China,” he said of the coronavirus, “but that’s no reason to actually vilify Chinese people.”

In a commentary for the British Medical Journal, doctor Abraar Karan warned this behavior could discourage people with symptoms from coming forward.

Claire Hooker, a health lecturer at the University of Sydney, said the responses from governments may have compounded prejudice.

The World Health Organization has warned against “measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade”, but this has not stopped scores of countries from introducing travel bans.

The tiny Pacific nation of Micronesia has banned its citizens from visiting mainland China altogether.

“Travel bans respond largely to people’s fears,” said Hooker, and while sometimes warranted, they often “have the effect of cementing an association between Chinese people and scary viruses”.

Abbey Shi, a Shanghai-born student in Sydney, said the attitude shown by some of her peers has “become almost an attack on students who are Chinese”.

While Australia’s conservative government has banished its citizens returning from Wuhan – the central Chinese city at the epicenter of the virus – to a remote island for quarantine, thousands of students still stuck in China risk their studies being torpedoed.

“Right now it looks like they have to miss the semester’s start and potentially the whole year, because of the way the courses are set up,” Shi said.

According to Hooker, studies in Toronto on the impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS – another global coronavirus outbreak in 2002 – showed the impact of xenophobic sentiment often lasted much longer than the public health scare.

“While there may be a cessation of direct forms of racism as news about the disease dies down, it takes quite a bit of time for economic recovery and people continue to feel unsafe,” she said.

People may not rush back to Chinese businesses or restaurants, and may even heed some of the more outlandish viral social media disinformation — such as one popular post imploring people to avoid eating noodles for their own safety.

“In one sense you might think the effects lasted from the last coronavirus to this one, because the representation as China being a place where diseases come from has been persistent,” Hooker said.

Kerala declares “state calamity” over 3rd case of coronavirus

A regional health emergency has been declared in the Indian state of Kerala after a third case of a lethal virus gripping China was confirmed there, prompting officials to take harsher action against those evading screenings.

The “state calamity” was announced by Kerala’s health minister KK Shailaja, who noted the designation was not meant to “trigger panic”, but rather “to create more awareness” about the fast-moving contagion.

With three confirmed cases in the country, India has begun to take steps to contain the outbreak, but Shailaja said some returning from China continue to sidestep health checks and warned there would be legal consequences for anyone caught doing so.

“Despite our vigilance, it is sad some returnees dodge health officials. It is really dangerous,” the minister said. “If they continue to do this we will treat it as a crime. We need cooperation of all to tide over the crisis,” he added.

2,200 Indians under observation

Over 2,200 Indians remain under observation for signs of the illness with another 84 already admitted to hospitals.

A number of those under observation recently returned from China aboard two specially-equipped Air India flights sent to China to evacuate Indian citizens. Many of them are students studying in China. Another 3,000 students remain in China, Shailaja said.

New Delhi confirms 2nd coronavirus case

An Air India flight carrying 323 Indians and seven Maldivians from coronavirus-stricken Wuhan touched down in New Delhi on Sunday morning. It is the second time Indian citizens were airlifted from China since the outbreak.

It was the second time an Air India Boeing 747 has flown to the Chinese city at the epicenter of the deadly outbreak to rescue stranded Indians, many of whom are medical students at a local university.

On Saturday, the first such flight arrived in New Delhi with 324 people, bringing the total number of Indian evacuees to 657. This time, however, seven foreigners – citizens of the Republic of Maldives – were also transported.

The passengers will now be subject to monitoring in a special quarantine facility near the capital.

The news of the second flight safely returning to Indian soil came shortly after health officials confirmed the country’s second case of the novel coronavirus. Like the first one, it came out of the state of Kerala.

“The patient has tested positive for novel coronavirus and is in isolation in a hospital,” the Indian Health Ministry said on Sunday. The patient’s condition has been described as stable.

The first confirmed case was reported in the state of Kerala on Thursday. The individual was said to have contracted the disease while studying at Wuhan University.

It is unclear whether the patient in the second case was also a student, or whether the pair had been in close contact.

U.S. declares emergency and travel ban

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has declared a public health emergency and a temporary travel ban.

Over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that flights entering the country from China would be rerouted – m at no additional cost to the passenger – to seven airports designated for screenings.

US plans more evacuation flights from Wuhan

The U.S. health officials are preparing for the possibility of a pandemic.

The U.S. is planning more flights to evacuate American citizens out of Wuhan, according to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

Those flights will land at four U.S. military bases, and similar to the evacuation flight that landed in California last week, passengers will be quarantined upon arrival. The planes will be loaded with medical supplies and humanitarian goods, which the U.S. hopes to deliver to Wuhan on the first leg of the journey.

At Princeton University, more than 100 students self-quarantined because they had recently traveled to China, a university spokesperson confirmed. The school directed students, faculty and staff who traveled to mainland China to self-isolate for 14 days after their return.

In absence of a passport

In Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, Justin Steece, a 26-year-old American, made a video diary documenting his experience. Steece, who works in Wuhan and whose wife is a Chinese national, said his family was denied an evacuation flight by the State Department because his infant son does not yet have a passport.

U.S. actions spread fear

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying called the U.S. actions “excessive” and said that such measures “could only create and spread fear.”

U.S. patients’ illnesses range from mild to severe

The U.S. currently has 11 patients who have tested positive for the new coronavirus and 167 patients who have tested negative.

The U.S. coronavirus cases have been along a spectrum of severity. Some of the cases have been mild. Other patients have had moments when they were “extremely ill” and required oxygen to breathe.

Data out of China suggests that people who are older, or who have underlying health problems, are at higher risk for severe forms of coronavirus.

Hong Kong expands border closures

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday announced additional border closures, severing all but three links between the semi-autonomous Chinese city and mainland China. The Hong Kong International Airport, the Shenzhen Bay border and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge remain open.

The move came as thousands of public hospital workers went on strike Monday morning, demanding the Hong Kong government shutter all borders with mainland China as the country struggles to contain the outbreak.

At least 15 people in the city have been infected with the novel coronavirus, according to the Hong Kong Department of Health.

Oil climbs back above $50

Oil traded back above $50 a barrel before OPEC and its allies gather Tuesday for an urgent meeting to assess the impact of the coronavirus on global demand.

While futures have slumped more than 20% since early January as the virus curtailed demand in a market awash with crude, commodities are stabilizing globally on Tuesday as traders assess China’s measures to support economic growth.

The virus has upended trade flows and probably led to a 20% cut to China’s oil demand as the crisis hits the world’s biggest commodities importer. Refineries are curbing operations and shutting plants, while China’s top processor is seeking to re-sell millions of barrels of West African crude it no longer needs because of the squeeze to consumption.

“The coronavirus is prompting growth downgrades around the world and oil demand is taking a big hit,” said Howie Lee, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore.

West Texas Intermediate for March delivery added 44 cents to $50.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 1:06 p.m. in Singapore after falling as much as 0.9% earlier. The contract slumped 2.8% to the lowest since January 2019 on Monday. Brent gained 0.6% after dropping 3.8% on Monday.

Metals and iron ore

Energy to metals have rallied globally, while iron ore and crude in China pared losses after plunging earlier. The firmer tone came even as steel mills and processing plants remain shut throughout China.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz discussed the market by phone on Monday, the Kremlin said in a statement, adding that both leaders confirmed “readiness to continue cooperation.”

In China, officials are reviewing whether to soften the economic growth target for 2020 and authorities in Beijing are hoping the U.S. will agree to some flexibility on pledges in their phase-one trade deal due to the virus outbreak, according to people familiar with the situation.

Stocks in Asia bounce back

Asian equities rose with U.S. futures and China’s stocks stabilized after Monday’s slide as investors gauge efforts to contain the coronavirus and awaited potential responses from policy makers.

In a wild start to trading Tuesday, Chinese equities tumbled more than 2%, and then recouped all that loss within minutes.

South Korean shares outperformed in Asia, with Hong Kong, Japanese and Australian benchmarks seeing more modest gains.

U.S. Treasury yields also edged up, while the dollar was flat.

Analysts are anticipating a series of measures to support economic growth.

“We feel like the world is moving under our feet because the probability of containment, looking at statistics daily, is a little bit of a fool’s errand,” Richard Lacaille, chief investment officer at State Street Global Advisors.

China Stocks Steady After Monday’s Record $720 Billion Wipeout

Chinese stocks stabilized after the market’s biggest loss of value on record, with traders unconvinced that the recovery would last given the spreading virus outbreak.

The CSI 300 Index of equities rose 1% at 10:58 a.m. local time, led by large caps. The broader Shanghai Composite Index erased an earlier advance with more than two stocks dropping for each that advanced. The gains follow a $720 billion plunge in Chinese shares, the largest shareholders in China have ever seen on a net basis. A measure of 10-day swings jumped to the highest since October 2018.

Investors are bracing for wilder swings in stocks as they react to Beijing’s supportive measures and the worsening virus outbreak that is threatening China’s economy. While some came out Tuesday to buy stocks on the cheap, most stopped short of predicting that any rebound will be sustained. Some 135 stocks were still trading limit down on Tuesday.

“The worst is not over for China’s markets,” said Sean Lee, a fund manager at Shin Kong Investment Trust in Taipei. “We’re only seeing a rebound after yesterday’s sharp decline. It gives us time for a short breather. Funds will flock to stocks with good news in the short term.”

Two-thirds of the Chinese economy will remain closed this week as several provinces took the extraordinary step of extending the Lunar New Year holiday to help curb the spread of the disease.



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