17 Die From China's Coronavirus, Over 470 Affected Amid Global Fears

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: Deaths from China's new flu-like virus rose to 17 on Wednesday, heightening global fears of contagion from an infection suspected to have come from animals.

The previously unknown and contagious coronavirus strain emerged from the central city of Wuhan, with cases now detected as far away as the United States. Officials believe the origin to be a market where wildlife is traded illegally.

The latest death toll in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, had risen to 17 by 1200 GMT on Wednesday, state television quoted the provincial government as saying.

Hours earlier, officials had put the toll at nine dead, all in Wuhan, and more than 470 cases confirmed in China.

Contrasting with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people, China has this time given regular updates to try to head off panic as millions travel at home and abroad for the Lunar New Year.

"The rise in the mobility of the public has objectively increased the risk of the epidemic spreading," National Health Commission vice-minister Li Bin said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) began an emergency meeting to rule if the outbreak was a global health emergency.

After official appeals to stay calm, many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks, avoiding public places such as cinemas and shopping centres, and even turning to an online plague simulation game or watching disaster movie "The Flu" as a way to cope.

"The best way to conquer fear is to confront fear," said one commentator on China's Twitter-like Weibo.

The virus has spread from Wuhan around China to population centres including Beijing, Shanghai, Macau and Hong Kong.

Abroad, Thailand has confirmed four cases, while the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have each reported one.

President Donald Trump said the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a good containment plan. "We think it is going to be handled very well," he said at Davos in Switzerland.

Respiratory Threat

Li said the virus, which can cause pneumonia, was being spread via breathing. Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. About 2,200 people in contact with infected people were in isolation.

There is no vaccine for the virus.

"I believe the government for sure, but I still feel fearful. Because there's no cure for the virus," said Fu Ning, a 36-year-old woman in Beijing. "You have to rely on your immunity if you get an infection. It sounds very scary."

Fears of a pandemic initially spooked markets, with aviation and luxury goods stocks hit and the yuan falling, but they were regaining their footing on Wednesday in approval of China's containment response.

Across China, companies from Foxconn to Huawei Technologies and HSBC Holdings were warning staff to avoid Wuhan and handing out masks. Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Apple supplier Foxconn, said he was advising employees not to visit China.

With more than 11 million people, Wuhan is central China's main industrial and commercial centre and an important transport hub, home to the country's largest inland port and gateway to its giant Three Gorges hydroelectric dam.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said new cases would appear as China stepped up monitoring. But Li said there was no evidence of "super-spreaders" capable of disseminating the virus more widely, as happened during the SARS outbreak. SARS was thought to have crossed to humans from civet cats sold for food.

Global Precautions

Airports round the world have stepped up screening of people from China.

Russia's consumer safety watchdog said it had strengthened its sanitary and quarantine control, Britain said it would start enhanced monitoring of passengers arriving from Wuhan and Singapore started screening all passengers arriving from China.

The Chinese-ruled gambling hub of Macau confirmed its first case of pneumonia linked to the coronavirus and tightened body-temperature screening measures.

A first case of the virus emerged in Hong Kong on Wednesday, media reported. The patient arrived via high-speed railway from the mainland and had been quarantined.

"The whole world is watching," the city's commerce secretary, Edward Yau, told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mexico said it was investigating a potential case of the virus.

North Korea banned foreign tourists from Wednesday due to the virus, several foreign tour operators said, losing one of its main sources of foreign currency.

Sport too was affected, with some qualifying boxing matches for the 2020 Olympics set for Wuhan cancelled and women's football qualifiers shifted to Nanjing.

China's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the top legal authority in the communist-ruled country, posted on Tuesday that anyone failing to report virus cases "will be forever nailed to the pillar of historical shame".

But despite such openness, some experts were sceptical.

"We have reason to doubt whether surv (surveillance) is adequate as cases mount," tweeted Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University Law School in Washington.

  • Published in World

Rats, Live Wolf Pups At China Food Market Menu Linked To Virus Outbreak

Shanghai: The food market where China's deadly virus surfaced was a smorgasbord of exotic wildlife ranging from wolf pups to species linked to previous pandemics such as civets, according to vendor information and a Chinese media report.

The Huanan Seafood Market in the central city of Wuhan came under greater scrutiny on Wednesday as Chinese officials said that the virus which has so far killed nine people and infected hundreds may have originated in a wild animal sold at the food emporium.

Past deadly epidemics have been blamed on wild animals -- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was linked to Chinese consumption of civet meat -- setting Chinese authorities up for potential embarrassment if lax supervision of wildlife trafficking is found at fault in the latest outbreak.

A price list circulating on China's internet for a business at the Wuhan market lists a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies, giant salamanders, snakes, rats, peacocks, porcupines, camel meat and other game -- 112 items in all.

"Freshly slaughtered, frozen and delivered to your door," said the price list for the vendor, "Wild Game Animal Husbandry for the Masses".

Gao Fu, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention, said in Beijing on Wednesday that authorities believe the virus likely came from "wild animals at the seafood market" though the exact source remains undetermined.

China bans the trafficking of a number of wild species or requires special licenses, but regulations are loose for some species if they are commercially farmed.

AFP was unable to directly confirm the authenticity of the price list. Phone calls to the vendor went unanswered, and attempts to connect to its social media accounts were rejected.

The Beijing News published a photo Tuesday showing the same vendor's now-shuttered store front, as authorities in white hazmat suits milled about.

The paper also quoted other merchants as saying trade in wildlife took place up until the market was shuttered for disinfection shortly after the outbreak.

A number of the early sufferers of the virus, now known as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), were employees of the market.

Virus 'spillover'

Many exotic species are still widely consumed in China or other Asian countries where they are considered a delicacy -- like the civet or some rats or bats -- or for purported health benefits that are unproven by science.

But this brings growing human health risks, said Christian Walzer, executive director of the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society's Health Program.

Walzer said 70 percent of all new infectious diseases come from wildlife, with habitat encroachment increasing the chances of pathogens spreading.

"Wildlife markets offer a unique opportunity for viruses to spill over from wildlife hosts," he said.

"It is essential to invest resources not only into discovering new viruses, but more importantly, in determining the epidemiological drivers of... (the) spillover, amplification, and spread of infectious diseases."

Bats are thought to have spawned SARS, which in 2002-03 killed hundreds of people in Asia, mostly China.

SARS was also found in civets in wildlife markets in China, with many scientists believing the bat virus infected the cat-like creatures and then humans who ate them.

Following SARS, China cracked down on consumption of civets and some other species, but conservationists say the trade continues.

China has so far won praise for its openness and handling of the current outbreak in stark contrast to SARS, when it was accused of stifling information and failing to cooperate with the rest of the world.

  • Published in World

Cuban and Chinese children honor Jose Marti

FotosPL: Yolaidy Martínez

Beijing,  (Prensa Latina) Cuban and Chinese children on Saturday joined their respective cultures in an event to honor the 167th birthday Cuban National Hero Jose Marti.

Among music, dance, visual arts and poetry, the children gathered at the Cuban Embassy in Beijing to pay tribute to the most universal of all Cubans, a moment that became a bridge to strengthen friendship between the two socialist countries.

At the beginning of the event, Ambassador Carlos Miguel Pereira recalled one of Marti's phrases on children, and assured that it has been a maxim during the 61 years of the Cuban Revolution.

'We live for children in Cuba. Ensuring the new generations for the construction of a better world based on humanistic values and principles, and guaranteeing the enjoyment of a happy childhood and youth,' he said.

At the cultural event, all Cuban children sang 'Guantanamera' with stanzas of Jose Marti's Simple Verses.

Images of Jose Marti and drawings made by the children were screened during the activity.

  • Published in Culture

China has announced a new plan to crack down on most single-use plastics by 2025

Hong Kong (CNN Business)The Chinese government has announced a new plan to crack down on plastic pollution across the country by 2025, including a ban on single-use plastic straws and bags.

In a statement Sunday, China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said both the production and use of a large number of single-use plastics would be slowly phased out across the country by the middle of the decade.
The new policy included a detailed timeline outlining which plastics will be banned by a certain time in areas across the country. Major cities can expect to see changes sooner, while smaller towns or rural areas will be given more time to adjust.
For example, according to the document, the catering industry will be banned from using single-use plastic cutlery in major cities by the end of 2020, while non-degradable plastic straws will be unavailable nationwide.
But there are complicated caveats on who can and cannot use some plastic items. For instance, the plastic, non-degradable tableware that will be banned in many restaurants this year will only be partially phased out in takeaway containers by 2025.
Thin, single-use plastic bags will be banned in most stores in large cities by the end of 2020, but smaller cities and villages have until 2022 or even 2025 to begin phasing them out.
By the end of 2025, hotels will no longer be allowed to provide single-use plastic items and no postal service nationwide will be allowed to use any plastic packaging.
Plastic pollution is killing these animals
Plastic pollution is killing these animals 01:22
The huge use of single-use plastic products by humans is having a devastating impact on the world's wildlife, with an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic dumped into the ocean every year. Governments and companies around the world are increasingly looking for ways to cut down on our collective plastic footprint.
China produces more than 29% of the world's plastic products, making it the largest manufacturer of plastic in the world, according to a 2019 joint study by Columbia University and Zhejiang University.
The country is also home to some of the world's highest plastic consumption. According to the World Economic Forum, China's Yangtze river carries more plastic pollution into the ocean than any other waterway in the world.
In 2018, China announced it would no longer accept other countries' plastic waste for recycling, citing environmental concerns.
On top of the bans announced Sunday, the Chinese government said it would promote the use of degradable or recycled plastic products and create comprehensive recycling programs. In the document, the commission said cracking down on plastic pollution was important for people's health and "to build a beautiful China."
  • Published in World

Venezuelan FM Completes First Official Visit to China

The Venezuelan official made an official visit to China to strengthen relations between the two countries and increase economic and political cooperation. 

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza held a series of meetings with senior Chinese officials in Beijing on Thursday as both nations seek to strengthen their bilateral relations. 

RELATED: China, Venezuela to Boost Bilateral Cooperation, Brotherhood

As part of his official agenda, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister met with the Vice President of the Asian nation, Wang Qishan. Arreaza and Wang discussed the progress and eventual challenges of their strategic partnership, which include the ongoing economic blockade by the U.S. 

"The development of the relationship with Venezuela has been exponential since 2001, surpassing 500 joint projects, binational funds, energy production and in the most diverse areas of our economies," Arreaza stated.

For his part, Wang confirmed that China is willing to improve communication and coordination with Venezuela in a concrete and far-reaching way to develop its comprehensive strategic partnership.

The Chinese Vice President stressed that despite foreign interference, both nations have achieved pragmatic and efficient cooperation in various fields.

This is Arreaza's first official visit  to China. During his stay, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister also met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, and with the head of the international department of the central committee of the Communist Party of China, Song Tao.

Arreaza thanked the Chinese authorities for the position they have taken on Venezuela, amid the constant aggressions of the United States and its allied countries.

  • Published in World

China blames US for destroying nuclear deal with Iran

Beijing, Jan 6 (Prensa Latina) China said on Monday that the United States pushed Iran to abandon commitments on uranium enrichment by unilaterally withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018.

Geng Shuang, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, noted in a press conference that with that step, Washington not only ignored international laws and obligations, but also opted to exert maximum pressure and obstruct the efforts of the other signatories of the deal to maintain it.

He stressed that despite the hostile stance of the White House, Tehran refrained from making the situation worse and showed the political will to effectively resolve the dispute.

Shuang considered it prudent to take into account all such elements before proceeding with an analysis of the issue, to ensure that any response is rational, measured, without interference and aimed at finding a political solution.

He also emphasized that China opposes the use of force in international relations such as the recent US maneuvers in Baghdad, where Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Iraqi militia, were assassinated.

He deplored US plans to destroy 52 Iranian sites, if the Islamic Republic responds with attacks following the death of the senior officer.

  • Published in World

Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng Meets with New Cuban Ambassador to China Carlos Miguel Pereira

On December 26, 2019, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng met with new Cuban Ambassador to China Carlos Miguel Pereira, exchanging views on China-Cuba relations and other topics.

Le Yucheng welcomed Carlos Miguel Pereira on his assumption of the new post in China, saying that China and Cuba enjoy a profound traditional friendship, which has become even stronger with the passage of the time. Both sides should take the 60th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations next year as an opportunity to implement the important consensus reached by the two heads of state and elevate exchanges and cooperation in various areas to new highs.

Carlos Miguel Pereira expressed, it is my pleasure to serve as Ambassador to China again. The Cuban side is willing to, together with the Chinese side, enhance strategic coordination, strengthen political mutual trust, deepen practical cooperation and propel bilateral relations for constant and new progress.

  • Published in Cuba

Confucius Institute opens door to Cubans

The Confucius Institute at the University of Havana is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary, and has opened its door to the public, seeking to encourage the arrival of new Cuban students interested in the Chinese language and culture.

In Havana‘s Chinatown on Saturday, professors and students of the teaching institution attached to the university offered information to people who were interested in the function of the center.

After an initial introduction to the courses and enrollment, which are totally free, many people gathered at the gate of the institute on the Old San Nicolas Street to play weiqi (Go), appreciate the art of Chinese knots and paper folding and paint on their faces the flags of Cuba and China.

As the most enthusiastic participants, young people and children seized the chance to directly approach ancient Chinese culture, which was being promoted by the 22 Chinese teachers and six Cubans who work at the institute.

“The institute was founded on November 30, 2009 and since then more than 6,000 students have passed through our classrooms and have advanced through the different levels of the Chinese language,” the institute‘s principal Yorbelis Rosell told the Xinhua News Agency. 

Rosell stressed that they currently have more than 900 students.

The institute offers courses at various levels, from the elementary to the advanced, as well as those for teenagers and adults.

“The Institute is a bridge of friendship between two peoples, because by teaching the country‘s language and promoting its culture, the students also know the differences of other people and in that way to respect it and to create stronger friendly relations,” said Rosell.

In the classrooms, demonstrations of fabric dyeing, consultations of traditional and natural medicine were also presented, as well as the first class for the attending students.

Among students who were starting their Chinese learning journey, Thalia Alvarez majors in English at the Faculty of Foreign Languages of the University of Havana.

“I want to choose Chinese as a second language, because I find it very attractive and it has nothing to do with Spanish,” said Alvarez, 19, adding that she was very interested in the Chinese culture.

  • Published in Cuba
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