China's experience has shown fundamental measures do work to contain COVID-19, such as measures of identifying cases and contacts, as well as mobilizing population, an epidemiologist of the World Health Organization (WHO) noted here Thursday, calling on countries to make full use of them.
Deeply touched by the absolute drive of every person she met in China amid the epidemic, Maria van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, told a daily briefing that everyone in China knows their role in the COVID-19 outbreak, adding they know how to protect themselves and their families, as well as what they need to do collectively to bring the epidemic under control.
WHO is concerned that some countries have either not taken COVID-19 seriously enough, or have decided there's nothing they can do, as the number of countries reporting cases keeps rising, especially those with weaker health systems.
Apart from China, Kerkhove noted, those fundamental measures are being used in other countries like Singapore and Vietnam as well, stressing "that is something every country can do".
Even if confirmed cases were reported in a country, it doesn't mean clusters or large-scale outbreak would be certain to occur, Kerkhove said, adding that it doesn't mean the epidemic would go out of control either.
The number of people infected with the new virus charged toward 100,000 Friday, with the global scare upending routines, threatening livelihoods and prompting quarantines in its spread.
Asian shares were down following a rough day on Wall Street and the consequences of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, were becoming clear to people around the world. Halted travel and a broader economic downturn linked to the outbreak threatened to hit already-struggling communities for months to come.
"Who is going to feed their families?" asked Elias al-Arja, the head of a hotel owners' union in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where tourists have been banned and the storied Church of the Nativity shuttered.
The head of the U.N.'s food agency, the World Food Program, warned of the potential of "absolute devastation" as the outbreak's effects ripple through Africa and the Middle East.
Across the West, there was a sense of déjà vu as the virus' spread prompted scenes that already played out in Asia, with workers foregoing offices, vigorous sanitizing in public places and runs on household basics. Even the spectacle of a cruise ship ordered to stay at sea off the California coast over virus fears replicated ones weeks ago on the other side of the globe.
"The Western world is now following some of China's playbook," said Chris Beauchamp, a market analyst at the financial firm IG.
Signs of the virus' shift away from its origins in China were becoming clearer each day.
China reported 143 new cases Friday, the same as a day earlier and about one-third what the country was seeing a week ago. Just a month ago, China was reporting several thousand new cases a day, outnumbering infections elsewhere in the world about 120 to 1. The problem has now flipped, with the outbreak moving to Europe — where Italy, Germany and France had the most cases — and beyond.
The second hardest-hit country, South Korea, was also registering a notable decline in new infections and the World Health Organization's leader said he was seeing "encouraging signs" there.
South Korea reported 505 additional cases Friday, down from a high of 851 on Tuesday. The country has touted its "remarkable diagnostic and treatment abilities" but its vice health minister, Kim Gang-lip, said, "It's not easy to make predictions about how the situation ... would play out."
Cases were increasing in Germany and France, but Italy remained the center of Europe's outbreak, particularly in its north. The country has had 148 fatalities, making it the deadliest site for the virus outside China.
The Italian government restricted visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to protect older people who have been more vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19. But with schools closed nationwide, many grandparents were called to duty as last-minute babysitters anyway.
The Vatican said it was working with Italian authorities to keep the coronavirus from spreading in its tiny city-state, with a suspension of Pope Francis' weekly audiences seen likely.
Iran's government planned to set up checkpoints to limit travel and urged people to stop using paper money as the country has counted more than 3,500 cases and at least 107 deaths.
And in the United States, more than 230 cases were stirring anxiety around the country, nowhere more than its northwestern corner in Washington state, where officials are so concerned about having space to care for the sick they were expected to close a $4 million deal Friday to take over a roadside motel.
The plan to turn the 84-room EconoLodge into a quarantine facility was not sitting well with everyone, including the police chief in the town where it's located, who called it "ill-advised and dangerous" and warned security would be needed to keep people from leaving the hotel and infecting others.
To the south, on the Pacific coast, California National Guard paratroopers were hoisted down from a military helicopter to deliver virus test kits to the bow of the Grand Princess cruise ship.
The vessel, with 3,500 aboard, was ordered to stay at sea after a traveler from its previous voyage died of the coronavirus and at least four others were infected. The cruise line said samples were collected from 45 passengers and crew members and results were expected later Friday.
The Grand Princess is operated by the same line as the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined at a Japanese port last month. More than 700 people on board were infected.
The U.S. administration's move to limit the number of Chinese employees of Chinese media outlets in the united states severely undermines the mutual trust and exchanges between the two countries and reveals a real image of press bullying.
Like many other international news organizations in the United States, Xinhua News Agency and other Chinese media outlets have been playing an irreplaceable role in increasing mutual understanding, promoting people-to-people exchanges and enhancing bilateral ties. Their contribution to sound two-way exchanges is widely recognized.
The Chinese news organizations abide by the U.S. laws, adhere to the ethics of journalism and follow the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity and impartiality. Their professionalism can not be denied.
The latest U.S. decision to cap the number of Chinese media journalists who can work in the United States is not because the Chinese media outlets have done anything wrong, but is out of deep-rooted ideological prejudice against China and the U.S. political suppression on Chinese media's role in promoting fairness, justice and progress. It is a typical style of hegemony reflected in the media sector.
The blatant and arbitrary move by the United States to impede the free flow of information is a negation of its self-claimed image as the champion of freedom of the press. From requiring Chinese media to register as "foreign agents" and listing five Chinese media outlets as "foreign missions" to "expelling" Chinese reporters in a disguised way, the U.S. government has continuously escalated its oppression against Chinese media and grossly interfered in their normal operations. The face of hypocrisy, double standards and hegemony emerges.
China firmly opposes press bullying. It has been an internationally-recognized principle to play the media's role in promoting international cooperation and provide convenience to media outlets for their normal reporting activities. Such play by the U.S. administration should be written into the history book of the press in the chapter of shame.
A direct consequence of the downsizing of Chinese media staff will be that the media's role as an important bridge and link between the two countries to strengthen communication and enhance understanding will be weakened. The Chinese people will have fewer direct accesses to learn about the United States, its politics, economy, society and people.
In fact, it is known to all that the news reporting environment in the United States is increasingly deteriorating. Journalists have been searched, attacked, intercepted at the border, and restricted from publishing public information, according to U.S. media reports. Freedom of the press in the United States has been seriously undermined over the past years.
The U.S. side should drop the Cold War and zero-sum game mentality and build cooperation, not shake it, when dealing with China. The United States has broken the rules of the game, it should immediately correct its wrongdoings and refraining from going too far.
Chinese health authority said Friday it received reports of 143 new confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection and 30 deaths on Thursday on the Chinese mainland.
Among the deaths, 29 were in Hubei Province and one in Hainan Province, according to the National Health Commission.
Meanwhile, 102 new suspected cases were reported, said the commission.
Also on Thursday, 1,681 people were discharged from hospital after recovery, while the number of severe cases decreased by 215 to 5,737.
The overall confirmed cases on the mainland had reached 80,552 by the end of Thursday, including 23,784 patients who were still being treated, 53,726 patients who had been discharged after recovery, and 3,042 people who had died of the disease.
The commission said that 482 people were still suspected of being infected with the virus.
The commission added 29,896 close contacts were still under medical observation. On Thursday, 5,457 people were discharged from medical observation.
Also on Thursday, 16 imported cases of novel coronavirus infection were reported on the mainland, including 11 in Gansu Province, four in Beijing and one in Shanghai. By the end of Thursday, 36 imported cases had been reported, said the commission.
By the end of Thursday, 104 confirmed cases including two deaths had been reported in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), 10 confirmed cases in the Macao SAR, and 44 in Taiwan, including one death.
Forty-six patients in Hong Kong, nine in Macao and 12 in Taiwan had been discharged from hospital after recovery.
Sharjeel Imam was a little-known research scholar and a student activist until Indian police launched a manhunt across five states to nab him for a protest speech he gave calling for a month-long road blockade in the county's northeast.
"Create debris on the railway tracks and roads," Imam told the crowd, exhorting them to cut off the northeastern state of Assam from the rest of the country.
Massive protests had broken out in Assam and elsewhere in India in December after a law was passed that fast-tracks naturalization for some religious minorities who immigrated illegally from some neighboring countries but excludes Muslims.
In the wake of his speech, some leaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party labeled Imam a "secessionist." A lawmaker from Modi's party said that people like him "should be shot dead publicly."
In January, the 31-year-old was arrested and charged as an enemy of India under a British colonial-era sedition law. Modi's government has increasingly brandished the law to silence critics, intellectuals, human rights activists, filmmakers, students and journalists, with police arguing that words or actions of dissent make them a threat to national security.
Official data reveal as many as 332 people were arrested under the sedition law between 2016 and 2018, though only seven were convicted, suggesting that police have struggled to gather evidence against the accused.
Nevertheless, India's notoriously slow criminal justice system ensures that the movement and speech of the accused are severely hamstrung as long as cases remain pending. While charged, people can't obtain passports or government jobs, and must show up to court as required.
"The real punishment is in the trial where a person has to spend days, sometimes even months, to try and prove innocence," said Chitranshul Sinha, an Indian lawyer who has written a book on the history of the sedition law.
"This is enough to harass or silence people," he said, calling it an "oppressive, black law."
In the case of Imam, India's burgeoning pro-government news channels were quick to paint him as a raging Islamist who was out to destroy the country.
"The law is used to label dissenting citizens as disloyal toward their country through media trials instead of legal processes," said Ayesha Pattnaik, a researcher who has analyzed India's sedition law, brought in and used by the British to repress India's freedom fighters before its independence in 1947.
The government only began collecting data on the number of sedition cases in 2015, but researchers and other experts say there has been an increase in its use under the Modi government.
Last month when Modi's law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, was asked if India was becoming less tolerant of the free expression of dissent, he told reporters that use of the sedition law to silence dissent would be an "abuse of power."
Prasad said people have the right to criticize Modi, his party and the government but the law was needed because there were "forces in the country out to weaken India."
Government spokesman Kuldeep Dhatwalia declined to comment on accusations that the law is being used to target critics.
India's sedition law, like its equivalent in other former British-ruled countries, offers a legal framework to categorize a citizen as a threat to the state. Globally, it is increasingly viewed as a draconian law and was revoked in the United Kingdom in 2010.
Its use to silence critics in India isn't new.
During previous governments, people were charged with sedition for liking a Facebook post critical of the administration, criticizing a yoga guru, cheering a rival cricket team, drawing political cartoons, and not standing up in a movie theater for the national anthem, which is often played before films.
But under Modi, critics say, India is growing notoriously intolerant, its crackdown on critics unprecedented in scale.
Last year, Indian police filed a case of sedition against 49 people, including well-known movie stars, for writing an open letter to Modi expressing concerns over hate crimes targeting minority communities. After pubic outcry, the charges were dropped.
More recently, police investigated those involved in a school play that voiced opposition to the citizenship law and arrested a primary school teacher and the mother of a student for sedition. The students, aged 9 and 10, were interrogated by police over several days for participating in the play. The charges were later dropped.
Leaders of Modi's party routinely label critics as "anti-national." The government has rejected demands from civil society and opposition to repeal the law, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Last summer, New Delhi police filed a sedition case against political activist Shehla Rashid for tweets that alleged the Indian army tortured people in disputed Kashmir days after India revoked the region's semi-autonomy and put the Muslim-majority region under lockdown.
Shehla alleged that Indian soldiers tortured four Kashmiri men while placing a microphone next to them "so that the entire area could hear them scream, and be terrorized."
The Indian army refuted the allegations. A criminal complaint followed seeking Shehla's arrest on the grounds that she had spread fake information against the government and the army.
Shehla said the allegations of torture were proved true after reports of army abuse were published in the independent media, including The Associated Press.
Still, for months, she has been legally tackling the case that left her with "considerable financial implications" and had, what she calls, "chilling effects on her freedom of speech."
"The cost of speaking up in this country is a lot," said Shehla. "You are effectively criminalized the moment you speak up against the government."