The deadly coronavirus continues to infect China as the death toll has crossed 1,000 in the country. Tuesday recorded more than 100 fatalities - maximum deaths in a single day, which pushed the death toll to 1,016 in mainland China. Despite the official end of the extended Lunar New Year holiday, China remained mostly closed for business as many remained at home, with some 60 million people under virtual quarantine. A total of 42,638 virus infections have been recorded on the Chinese mainland.
As the situation continues to worsen, the World Health Organization has announced a new name for the disease COVID-19, saying officials wanted to avoid stigmatizing any geographic location, group of people or animal that might be linked to the disease and to make it clear it was a new coronavirus discovered in 2019.
“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing. It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that the name was agreed upon by officials at WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
While no central government-level officials have lost their jobs, state media reported Tuesday that the top health officials in Hubei province, home to the epicenter of Wuhan, have been relieved of their duties.
No reasons were given, although the province’s initial response was deemed slow and ineffective. Speculation that higher-level officials could be sacked has simmered, but doing so could spark political infighting and be a tacit admission that the Communist Party dropped the ball.
The virus outbreak has become the latest political challenge for Xi Jinping, who despite accruing more political power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, has struggled to handle crises on multiple fronts. These include a sharply slowing domestic economy, the trade war with the US and push-back on China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policies.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, authorities evacuated some residents of an apartment block after two cases among those living there raised suspicion that the virus may be spreading through the building’s plumbing.
It was reminiscent of the SARS outbreak that killed hundreds in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. The biggest number of connected cases in that outbreak were in one apartment complex where the virus spread through sewage pipes.
Health officials called it a precautionary measure after a 62-year-old woman diagnosed with the virus Tuesday was found living 10 floors below a man who was earlier confirmed infected. The woman’s son and daughter-in-law, who live with her, were among seven new cases reported last week in the city, where a total of 49 people have been infected.
The 34 households evacuated live above or below the woman and share the same sewage system. A modified toilet drainage pipe in her unit may have helped spread the virus and officials are checking if any other units have made such alterations while they disinfect the building.