See the source image
Did humans or bats infect the snakes, which then infected humans with the mutant?

UPDATE 03. February 2020: It's real, but it is also still a drill. The lock-down excercise is set to continue, despite the economic implications. Mysterious increase in coronavirus cases: China’s National Health Commission reported Monday that there are now suddenly 17,488 confirmed cases in China since December 2019, including 15 in Hong Kong and eight in Macao. The self-governing island of Taiwan reported 10 cases. 57 new deaths reported on Monday lets the figure inside China stand at  361 - means the fatality rate of 2019-nCoV sunk to 2.06%. The World Health Organization reported 146 confirmed cases in 23 countries internationally with the first death reported outside China - in the Philippines. The inconclusive jumps in the statistics were explained by the Chinese with a backlog in analysis and data-preparation. Chinese leader Xi Jinping chaired a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of China’s Communist Party - the most powerful political body in China’s political system - and declared that the coronavirus outbreak was not just a health issue, but a problem for all parts of society. Well, the people subjected to the lock-down and total control excercise know that. In another military drill China built a complete new 1000 bed hospital for the cases in just under 10 days. The additioal virus outbreak in chicken has so far not jumped to humans. This Chinese coronavirus outbreak is far less deadly than e.g. 'normal' influenza in the United States - a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said 19 million people were infected and at least 10,000 died of the flu in the USA in 2019 and the first part of 2020. A similar situation was experienced by most countries during the flu season with nobody yelling "fire" as for China's snake-cronavirus.

UPDATE 31. January 2020: First official evacuation flights of foreign nationals have now left China. Healthy French and British nationals evacuated will still be kept for 14 days in quarantine upon arrival. That the whole exercise and the declaration as global emergency by the WHO is hypocrite and ridiculous becomes clear, if one considers that in China every year around 10% of the untimely deaths are caused by outdoor air pollution - the official figure for 2017 in China is 1.03 million deaths due to outside pollution. But to maintain the coronavirus-hype, however, officials try now desperately to up the numbers for this flu event and today around 9,692 cases worldwide (20% up since yesterday despite the lock-down) and around 213 death in China with zero death anywhere else were reported as total since 31. December 2019, when the Orwellian exercise was started. Experts start now questionng the official Chinese figures with 20% increase since yesterday despite the established low replication rate and the lock-down in China. Today 19 countries have or had confirmed cases of the 2019-nCoV flu - with Germany and Italy also having now a living carrier. The fatality rate continues to be very low with unchanged 2.2% - mainly in elderly patients with additional ailments and the replication rate is likewise quite low with only around 2.0-2.5 in China. The argument now used by the WHO as an excuse for unwarrantly delaring the Chinese snake-flu as global health emergency is that countries with less developed health systems would be better protected. But Kenyans for example shake ther heads, because a massive seasonal flu wave had affected the population since mid December due to the wet and cold weather with extensive rains that affected many people in poor living conditions and caused death, but nobody cared. However, Kenya Airways and Rwanda Airlines have now stopped their flights to China. The USA and Japan issued travel advisories telling their citizens to abstain from all travels to China. 

UPDATE 30. January 2020: 7,711 cases of the snake-flu infections in China and 68 overseas confirmed. Of all patients only 170 died (all in China). Fatality rate only 2.2% = much less than with any other normal influenza occurrence. While the economic and food-security impact of the Orwellian crowd-control, city- and transport-shutdown exercise in China is massive, the U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, declared that the coronavirus 'will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America'. The WHO has now declared the 2019-nCoV flu a global health emergency - despite the very low figures with so far only 68 cases and no death confirmed from outside China. The average number of death from outside air-pollution is much, much higher worldwide, but the WHO does not declare that as a global health emergency.

Make ban on Chinese wildlife markets permanent, says environment expert

A flying squirrel inside a cage for sale at a market in China’s southern city of Guangzhou. China announced a temporary national ban on the trade of wild animals to try to curb the spread of coronavirus. Photograph: Kin Cheung/Reuters

Temporary ban to curb coronavirus is not enough, says environmental leader Jinfeng Zhou

and Michael Standaert -

A temporary ban on wildlife markets in China to curb the spread of coronavirus is “not enough” and should be made permanent, a prominent Chinese environmental leader has told the Guardian.

Echoing calls from experts worldwide who have denounced the trade for its damaging impact on biodiversity as well as the spread of disease, Jinfeng Zhou, secretary general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF), said the ban failed to address the root cause of the outbreak, which was poor regulation and high levels of illegal trade.

The flu-like virus is believed to have emerged from Huanan seafood market in the industrial city of Wuhan where wild animals such as snakes, porcupines and pangolins were kept alive in small cages while waiting to be sold.

The national ban means the trade of wild animals will not be allowed in markets, restaurants or on e-commerce sites until the coronavirus outbreak ends, Chinese officials said on Sunday.

Zhou told the Guardian: “This temporary ban is not enough. The trade should be banned indefinitely, at least until new rules are introduced. We have had similar diseases caused by illegal wildlife trafficking and if we don’t ban the trade these diseases will happen again.”

China has a wildlife protection law that was adopted in 1988 but the list of protected wild animals has not been updated for three decades and critics say the authorities do little to enforce it. The CBCGDF – which was founded in 1985 and is one of China’s oldest wildlife organisations – is lobbying for a new biodiversity protection law to properly safeguard the country’s wildlife.

Zhou said: “The announcement [on Sunday] lacked clear regulations on management, control and punishment. If there are no rules, there are no rules – there must be a set of responsibilities in order for officials to control the trade.”

The temporary ban has put the spotlight on China’s poorly regulated wildlife trade, which is driven by the country’s appetite for traditional medicines and exotic foods. Before Huanan seafood market was closed on 1 January, it contained 30 species of animal, including live wolf pups, salamanders, golden cicadas, civets and bamboo rats.

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/fb89fff775672bd99c438525ca79697519a6f7de/0_0_1080_758/master/1080.jpg?width=620&quality=85&auto=format&fit=max&s=b031f5eb179fe11b5a3dc766ece1a19a

A list of prices for a vendor at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan includes live deer, live centipede and live ostrich. Photograph: Courtesy of SAM小K/Weibo

Animals sold in these markets are often kept in filthy conditions and left to fester in their own waste, which means they incubate diseases that can then spill into human populations. Similar markets are found all over the country and have been the source of outbreaks in the past.

Dr Christian Walzer, chief global veterinarian at for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the temporary ban was an important first step in making China’s wildlife trade permanently illegal.

“Humans are getting sick from eating or being exposed to wildlife in these markets; wildlife populations are being depleted as they are poached and hunted for these markets; and economies and the poor are harmed as the mass culling of animals in response to these outbreaks increase the cost of basic animal protein (domesticated farm animals like chickens and pigs) that hit the poor the hardest.”

In 2002–3, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) – which is a type of coronavirus – spread across China and went on to kill 800 people worldwide. It resulted in a temporary ban on wild animal markets, and bats were later found to be the source. Chinese government medical advisers have identified badgers, snakes and rats as possible sources of the latest outbreak.

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/2998dd2ac0fa5e5667c23ee7564f02e1599017be/0_0_1080_1388/master/1080.jpg?width=300&quality=85&auto=format&fit=max&s=af32334e5b171a69cc617dd9a4f11308

A marmot and a muntjac deer in separate cages at a market. Conditions in wildlife markets mean viruses can easily spread from animal to animal, to humans and vice a versa. Photograph: Courtesy of SAM小K/Weibo

However, the current wildlife trade ban will have no impact on curbing the spread of the virus, according to Prof James Wood, head of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge. Evidence suggests it was a “single spillover event to humans, followed by human to human transmission”, he said.

While most people would strongly support bans on the marketing of live wild animals, it is not always simple to implement overnight bans on well-established types of trade, according to Wood.

“Jinfeng Zhou makes statements that are highly informed by detailed knowledge of the situation regarding wildlife markets in China,” he said. “It is important that clear frameworks are developed and implemented, as otherwise it could be possible for wild-caught animals to be sold at markets that have been developed for animals bred in captivity.”

The temporary ban comes as China prepares to host the major Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming this October, which is a chance for world leaders to agree a new action plan to stop global extinctions in the next decade. Globally 8,775 species are at risk of extinction as a result of illegal trading, according to a 2019 paper published in Science.

Steven Galster, founder of the anti-wildlife-trafficking group Freeland, said: “China is to be congratulated for taking such a bold move to ban the wildlife trade and we should encourage China to keep this ban in place permanently. A sustained ban will save human lives, and contribute to a recovery of wildlife populations worldwide.”

Authors:

 @phoeb0  and Michael Standaert

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

 

Scientists Scrutinize New Coronavirus Genome for Answers

Researchers are trying to figure out where it came from, whether it’s evolving, and just how big a threat it will be.

By Emma Yasinski - 23. January 2020

As of today (January 23), 18 people have died from a newly identified coronavirus, and more than 630 have been infected. Airports are screening passengers coming from at-risk regions. Public celebrations of the Lunar New Year have been cancelled in several Chinese cities. China has stopped trains and other transportation leaving Wuhan, where the infections originated, and restricted travel within the city and neighboring areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) held a conference today to discuss the travel bans and other precautions related to the new disease, currently being called 2019-nCoV, a respiratory virus with characteristics similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from 2003.

As public health officials respond in real-time to the unfolding of the outbreak, so too are scientists. Just one month after the first case of the pneumonia-causing virus was reported on December 8, Chinese scientists sequenced the viral genome and made it public. Now, researchers around the globe are scrutinizing the sequence for insight into this mystery disease.

“It really is an amazing feat that they got these sequences out as quickly as they did,” says Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch who has studied the new genome. That speed, he notes, stands in contrast with the SARS outbreak, in which “for many months, it was not known that there was an outbreak.”

It doesn’t appear that these viruses have been in human populations for a long time and just not recognized.

—Vineet Menachery, University of Texas Medical Branch

While there are still concerns that China has silenced critics and downplayed the seriousness of the disease, the genome’s availability is already helping doctors properly diagnose the infection. It causes flu-like symptoms such as cough and fever that make it difficult to distinguish from other, more common illnesses.

“It seems like it might be a little less clinically severe than SARS, though it’s still very early,” says Alex Greninger, a virologist at the University of Washington. “This virus has escalated quite quickly. And when you’re at this point in the epidemic curve, it’s very hard to know which way things are going.”

When a man in Washington state developed mild symptoms two days after returning from Wuhan on January 15, his doctors shipped his sample overnight to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which used real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) to confirm that the sample matched the genetic sequence of 2019-nCoV. The strategy can also be used to determine the presence of the virus in individuals who don’t show symptoms but may still be able to spread it to others. Without the genome, officials would not have been able to definitively diagnose the disease.

The virus is somewhat similar to the SARS virus, says Menachery. He points out that almost all of 2019-nCoV’s proteins are the same as SARS’s, but “it does have differences in the key areas that you would expect will influence its ability to infect humans.”

Coronaviruses are so named because they have surface proteins that stick out like tips on a crown. These spikes help them invade cells. The S1 region of the protein first binds to a receptor on a human (or animal) cell, and the S2 region then fuses and allows the virus to enter that cell. Menachery says the S2 portion of the spike protein on the coronavirus matches that of the SARS virus, but the S1 region is somewhat different, meaning 2019-nCoV could use a different cell receptor for entry than the SARS virus does. However, a preprint that came out today from Wuhan-based scientists suggests that the two viruses do, in fact, utilize the same cell entry receptor, ACE2.

It’s possible that antiviral treatments currently in development to treat other viruses may be able to treat this new virus. The genomic analysis has suggested that the virus’ RNA polymerase—the target of one such drug called remdesivir—is conserved in 2019-nCoV. “We’d expect that they would work. But again, you don’t know that they’ll work until you actually test them. Nature has a way of getting around things,” says Menachery. Plus, the treatments haven’t been approved for any indications yet. There is a clinical trial recruiting patients to test the drug’s ability to treat Ebola, but other work is still preclinical.

Some of the most important characteristics of the disease can’t be understood from the virus’ genome alone. It was only earlier this week that researchers determined the virus could spread between humans and did not require direct contact with an infected animal. Researchers still aren’t sure how it is transmitted between people. “Is it shed only in respiratory secretions? Is it found in the urine? Is it found in the blood? Is it found in stool? What’s infectious? How long’s it infectious? How high the viral load can get,” says Greninger, “all those things are enabled by the genome, certainly. But you can’t deduce it from the genome.”

Additionally, while scientists know the virus emerged in Wuhan, China, at a market known for selling all sorts of live animals from both land and ocean, it’s unclear what species the virus came from, and that can’t be determined from the genome alone. “Knowing the source of the SARS epidemic really helped stamp out the problem,” says Anthony Fehr, who studies coronaviruses at the University of Kansas. “We can’t figure out the source just knowing the [genetic] sequence.”

The genome does give scientists some insight, though. For example, there was very little genetic variation between the first 10 patient samples sequenced by various teams across the world. Menachery says that’s a sign the virus recently jumped from animals to humans. “It doesn’t appear that these viruses have been in human populations for a long time and just not recognized,” he says. “It appears that they potentially recently emerged from either an animal host or some other location.”

Scientists will need to keep comparing new samples to determine how the virus adapts as it infects more people. “The other thing the sequence allows us to do,” says Fehr, “is see if the virus is evolving in real time. Are there mutations in the virus adapting to the human population; is it becoming more easily transmitted between humans because of certain mutations?”

On January 22, a team of China-based scientists published an article based on the virus’ genome that suggested it’s possible the coronavirus emerged from snakes. But, “the paper does not provide direct evidence that this virus was transmitted to humans from snakes and the indirect evidence is tenuous at best,” says Mark Stenglein, a virologist at the University of Colorado, in an email to The Scientist. “Scientists should disseminate only well supported information, especially in the context of a possible public health emergency.”

Only about 2 percent of those infected with the new coronavirus have died. So far, those deaths have primarily been older men with preexisting conditions, but many more have ended up seriously ill and are still in the hospital, according to officials at the WHO conference today. “In the next couple of weeks or so, we're going to see more and more cases. We’re going to start to see how serious it really is,” says Peter Gulick, an infectious disease specialist at Michigan State University. “Right now, we’re just hearing numbers here, numbers there . . . numbers that may not have substance, but just may make you worry.” 

Emma Yasinski is a Florida-based freelance reporter. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaYas24.

Homologous recombination within the spike glycoprotein of the newly identified coronavirus may boost cross‐species transmission from snake to human

By Wei JiWei WangXiaofang ZhaoJunjie ZaiXingguang Li - First published:22 January 2020

Abstract

The current outbreak of viral pneumonia in the city of Wuhan, China, was caused by a novel coronavirus designated 2019‐nCoV by the World Health Organization, as determined by sequencing the viral RNA genome. Many patients were potentially exposed to wildlife animals at the Huanan seafood wholesale market, where poultry, snake, bats, and other farm animals were also sold. To determine the possible virus reservoir, we have carried out comprehensive sequence analysis and comparison in conjunction with relative synonymous codon usage (RSCU) bias among different animal species based on existing sequences of the newly identified coronavirus 2019‐nCoV. Results obtained from our analyses suggest that the 2019‐nCoV appears to be a recombinant virus between the bat coronavirus and an origin‐unknown coronavirus. The recombination occurred within the viral spike glycoprotein, which recognizes cell surface receptor. Additionally, our findings suggest that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019‐nCoV based on its RSCU bias resembling snake compared to other animals. Taken together, our results suggest that homologous recombination within the spike glycoprotein may contribute to cross‐species transmission from snake to humans.

This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Citing Literature

 

SOME OF THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA HYPE:

(THERE MUST BE SOME MONEY FOR SOMEONE IN IT SOMEWHERE !!!)

Deaths Surpass 200, and U.S. State Department Urges Against Travel to China

The United States set its advisory at Level 4, which represents the highest safety risk. The World Health Organization said the virus represents a risk outside of China.

Here’s what you need to know:

Read the latest developments in the coronavirus outbreak here.

A patient was moved from his home to a hospital in Wuhan, China, on Thursday. Hundreds of people in the city have contracted the dangerous new coronavirus. Credit...Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The State Department on Thursday night issued a travel advisory telling Americans not to travel to China because of the public health threat posed by the coronavirus. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed the travel advisory on Twitter.

The department set the new advisory at Level 4, or Red, its highest caution, which is reserved for the most dangerous situations.

The World Health Organization declared on Thursday that the new coronavirus outbreak was a global health emergency, acknowledging that the disease represents a risk outside of China, where it emerged last month.

The declaration — officially called a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — serves notice to all United Nations member states that the world’s top health advisory body rates the situation as serious.

Countries can then decide whether to close their borders, cancel flights, screen people arriving at airports or take other measures.

The decision came as cases have begun to appear in people who had not traveled to China during the outbreak.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced in a Thursday night news conference that Italy had blocked all flights to and from China as the country confirmed its first cases of the coronavirus.

The government announced the country’s first two confirmed cases during the news conference. Officials said they would investigate the movements of the two people, Chinese tourists, and try to identify those they may have been in contact with.

The news capped a tense day in Italy, after thousands of passengers had been blocked from leaving a cruise ship that docked at an Italian port for more than 12 hours over concerns that someone aboard might have had the virus. That episode was ultimately a false alarm.

A Chinese national with a fever later tested negative for the coronavirus and the Italian authorities said that passengers were allowed to disembark.

The American Airlines pilots’ union said on Thursday that it was suing the airline in an attempt to halt all service between the United States and China, citing “a threat to the safety of passengers and flight crew.”

In a statement, the union, the Allied Pilots Association, said it was instructing its members to turn down requests to fly to China.

The airline had previously announced that, because of declining demand, it would suspend flights from Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai starting on Feb. 9. Service from Dallas to those cities is expected to continue.

In another development, United Airlines on Thursday announced a new wave of cancellations affecting hundreds of flights through the end of March. The cutback, a response to declining demand, will reduce the number of daily flights from 12 to four from its United States hubs to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

In all, the reduction includes 332 round trip cancellations between Feb. 9 and March 28.

Health officials on Thursday reported the first case of person-to-person transmission of the new coronavirus in the United States.

The patient is the husband of a woman who was the first reported case in Chicago, officials said at a news briefing. The woman, who is in her 60s, had returned from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus. She was hospitalized but appears to be doing well, said Dr. Jennifer Layden, an epidemiologist at the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Her husband, who had not traveled to China, recently began showing symptoms and was immediately isolated in the hospital. Lab tests have now confirmed that he was infected with the coronavirus, Dr. Layden said.

Health officials are tracking the places visited by both patients and identifying all close contacts to monitor them. The public is at low risk, officials said.

Person-to-person transmission may occur if someone who is sick breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes in the vicinity of others. Respiratory droplets carrying the virus may then travel from the sick person to other people or surfaces.

Based on the transmission patterns seen in China and other countries, experts have expected to see some person-to-person spread in the United States, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We understand that this may be concerning,” Dr. Redfield said. “But our assessment remains that the immediate risk to the American public is low.”

The disease is not spreading widely in the U.S. and people who have not had close contact with someone who recently traveled to China are unlikely to get infected.

◆ Forty-three more deaths in China were announced early Friday, bringing the toll to 213.

◆ Nearly 2,000 new cases were recorded in China in the past 24 hours, raising the worldwide total to nearly 9,800, according to Chinese and World Health Organization data. The vast majority of the cases are inside China; 98 cases have been confirmed in 18 other countries.

◆ Tibet has reported its first confirmed case. This means that all of China’s provinces and territories have now been touched by the outbreak.

◆ Thailand has reported 14 cases of infection; Japan has 11; Hong Kong and Singapore have 10; Taiwan has eight; Australia, Malaysia and Macau each have seven; France and the United States have six; South Korea, Germany and the United Arab Emirates each have 4; Canada has three; Vietnam and Italy each have two; and India, the Philippines, Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Finland each have one.

◆ Confirming India’s first case, the government said the patient, in the southern state of Kerala, was a student at Wuhan University. It said arriving passengers with a history of travel to China were being screened at 20 airports, up from seven earlier in the week.

◆ Cases recorded in Taiwan, Germany, Vietnam, Japan and France involved patients who had not been to China. There have been no reported deaths outside China.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus has unleashed a wave of panic and, in some cases, outright anti-Chinese sentiment across the globe.

In Japan, the hashtag #ChineseDon’tComeToJapan has been trending on Twitter.

In Singapore, tens of thousands of residents have signed a petition calling for the government to ban Chinese nationals from entering the country.

In Hong Kong, South Korea and Vietnam, businesses have posted signs saying that mainland Chinese customers are not welcome.

And in France, a front-page headline in a regional newspaper warned of a “Yellow Alert.”

At a time when China’s rise as a global economic and military power has unsettled its neighbors in Asia as well as its rivals in the West, the coronavirus is feeding into latent bigotry against the people of mainland China.

“Some of the xenophobia is likely undergirded by broader political and economic tensions and anxieties related to China, which are interacting with more recent fears of contagion,” said Kristi Govella, an assistant professor of Asian studies at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.

With China’s emergence as a major cultural market in recent years, the effects of the coronavirus outbreak quickly rippled through the arts world.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra announced Thursday morning that it was canceling a tour of Asia that had been scheduled to begin next week. The Hong Kong Philharmonic called off a pair of Beethoven concerts this weekend under the baton of its music director, Jaap van Zweden, who holds the same post at the New York Philharmonic, after its venue was closed. Film shoots were shut down; movie premieres postponed; a dozen concerts by the Cantopop star Andy Lau were canceled; and some prominent galleries were calling for Art Basel Hong Kong, the prestigious international art fair scheduled for March, to be canceled.

The Boston Symphony called off its tour, which was to have featured the pianist Yefim Bronfman, after learning that one of the halls it planned to play at, the Shanghai Oriental Art Center, had canceled its performances, and amid rising concerns about the spread of the virus.

Tours are hugely expensive undertakings for large symphony orchestras, and the Boston Symphony, which does not carry insurance for tour concert interruptions, will now begin discussions about costs with various vendors — including for its flights, cargo, and hotels — as well as with the concert presenters.

The National Symphony Orchestra, of Washington, is scheduled to perform in Beijing and Shanghai with its music director, Gianandrea Noseda, after several dates in Japan.

Gary Ginstling, the orchestra’s executive director, said that the orchestra had been conferring with government officials, presenters and medical experts as it monitors the situation.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Thursday that China’s loss might be America’s gain, because the coronavirus outbreak could prompt employers to move jobs to the United States.

“I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease,” Mr. Ross said in an interview on Fox Business. “I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America. Some to the U.S., probably some to Mexico as well.”

Mr. Ross cited previous disease outbreaks in China, suggesting that a prevalence of diseases there would become a factor in businesses leaving the country and relocating to North America.

“You had SARS, you have the African swine virus there, now you have this,” Mr. Ross said.

His remarks may be seen as insensitive to a country in crisis, and he has faced such criticism in the past. During the government shutdown in early 2019, Mr. Ross suggested that furloughed workers should take out loans while they went without pay for more than a month.

Russia prepared for a partial closure of its 2,600-mile border with China as fears about the coronavirus outbreak mounted in Moscow.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on Thursday ordered 16 of the approximately 25 crossing points that Russia operates on the Chinese border to be closed as of midnight local time. He said the closures would be part of a new raft of measures to stop the infection from spreading to the country from Russia’s southeastern neighbor.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry urged Russians to postpone all travel to China and suspended the issuance of electronic visas for Chinese citizens.

Russian officials say that no cases of coronavirus infection have been confirmed in Russia.

“We have to do everything to protect our people,” Mr. Mishustin said in televised remarks at a cabinet meeting. “We will inform everyone about the relevant actions being taken to close the border in the Far Eastern region and other measures being taken by the government.”

Anger and frustration have escalated in Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, as the city’s overwhelmed hospitals pleaded for urgent help to replenish diminishing supplies.

A relative of a coronavirus patient assaulted a doctor at a hospital in Wuhan, pulling and damaging the doctor’s mask and protective clothing, the state broadcaster CCTV reported on Thursday, citing the local police. The Beijing Youth Daily, a state-owned newspaper, reported that two doctors had been attacked at the hospital, including one who was threatened and had his protective gown torn off.

In the face of rising public anger, the central government has sought to present itself as intervening to hold accountable local officials in areas that have been hit hard by the epidemic.

CCTV aired footage on Thursday showing a central government inspection team grilling officials in Huanggang, a city about 50 miles from Wuhan, about the number of beds they had set aside for coronavirus patients. As the two local health officials fumbled their responses to seemingly basic questions, the visiting inspectors’ questions took on a more impatient tone.

Unusual in its blunt portrayal of inadequate government response, the report was quickly shared on Chinese social media sites with the hashtag “one question, three don’t knows.”

Officials say medical supplies are running dangerously low in central China, despite gear being delivered in bulk from around the world. The Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan wrote on Weibo, a social media platform, that the city had received 240,000 masks, 25,000 protective gowns and 4,000 pairs of medical goggles from its alumni group in Germany. The Chinese community in Singapore sent 75,000 medical masks.

Photographs posted online showed hospital workers, many still in protective gear, slumped over their desks and on the floors in exhaustion.

From Chris Buckley, our chief China correspondent, on the ground in Wuhan:

Since the central Chinese city of Wuhan went under official lockdown last week, most shops have shut, few cars venture onto the roads and fear has kept most people in their homes.

When Wuhan residents do step outside, it’s mostly to the supermarkets, food stores and pharmacies that have stayed open as part of a government effort to sustain the city. Senior officials have promised that residents need not worry about supplies of vegetables, fruit or other staples, even as large swaths of the province, Hubei, are also locked down to curtail the outbreak.

Yet Wuhan residents complained about price hikes, and expressed fear that a prolonged shutdown might choke off food supplies. Poorer people, both in urban Wuhan and in the countryside, would suffer more acutely from tightening supplies.

“If we can’t bring in produce, it will become more expensive, or we might even have to close up,” said Zuo Qichao, who was selling piles of cucumbers, turnips and tomatoes. As he spoke, a woman accused him of unfairly raising the turnips’ price.

“Every county, every village around here is now putting up barriers, worried about that disease,” Mr. Zuo said. “Even if the government says it wants food guaranteed, it won’t be easy — all those road checks.”

In Taiwan, anger has been growing over China’s refusal this week to let Taiwan evacuate about 300 of its people from Wuhan, even as it has given the United States, Japan and other countries permission to do so.

China’s ruling Communist Party considers Taiwan, a democratically governed island, to be part of China, and the two sides have no formal ties. Referring to the rebuffed evacuation request on Tuesday, Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said in a statement that Taiwanese people in Hubei Province, which includes Wuhan, were receiving “appropriate care.”

Kolas Yotaka, a spokeswoman for Taiwan’s government, said China was prioritizing politics over lives. Many of the Taiwanese seeking evacuation from Wuhan were tourists or on business trips, while others were residents of the city who suffered from chronic diseases, Ms. Kolas said.

“We call on the Chinese government to demonstrate basic humanity and agree to our request as soon as possible,” she said.

As part of its campaign to isolate Taiwan diplomatically, China has blocked it from participating in international bodies like the World Health Organization — a fact that has also angered Taiwanese people this week, as they try to prepare along with the rest of the world for the possibility of a worsening epidemic.

Fears that a fast-moving virus in China could impact the global economy drove investors in Asia to dump stocks on Thursday.

Money fled riskier assets like stocks and oil and flowed instead into investments that are considered safe havens, like gold, as growing numbers of policymakers, economists and corporate executives sounded alarms. Major benchmarks across the region fell by more than 1 percent. China’s markets remain closed for an extended holiday until Feb. 3.

Brent crude oil, the international benchmark, hit its lowest price this year before paring some of its losses. It was trading at about $59 a barrel.

European markets finished higher, and the S&P 500 closed up 0.3 percent.

A growing number of companies have warned they will have to close or shift operations and could take a financial hit from widespread business disruptions in China.

 

Reporting was contributed by Russell Goldman, Austin Ramzy, Tiffany May, Elaine Yu, Alexandra Stevenson, Motoko Rich, Christopher Buckley, Anton Troianovski, Isabella Kwai, Chris Horton, Megan Specia, Christopher Cameron, Makiko Inoue, Daisuke Wakabayashi, Karen Weise, Iliana Magra, Elisabetta Povoledo, Mike Isaac, Knvul Sheikh, Roni Caryn Rabin, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Karen Zraick and Neil Vigdor. Elsie Chen, Zoe Mou, Albee Zhang, Amber Wang, Yiwei Wang and Claire Fu contributed research.

 

BACKGROUND:

 

Lab-Made Coronavirus Triggers Debate

The creation of a chimeric SARS-like virus has scientists discussing the risks of gain-of-function research.

By Jef Akst - 16. November 2015

MERS coronavirus - flickr, niaid

Ralph Baric, an infectious-disease researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, last week (November 9) published a study on his team’s efforts to engineer a virus with the surface protein of the SHC014 coronavirus, found in horseshoe bats in China, and the backbone of one that causes human-like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in mice. The hybrid virus could infect human airway cells and caused disease in mice, according to the team’s results, which were published in Nature Medicine.

The results demonstrate the ability of the SHC014 surface protein to bind and infect human cells, validating concerns that this virus—or other coronaviruses found in bat species—may be capable of making the leap to people without first evolving in an intermediate host, Nature reported. They also reignite a debate about whether that information justifies the risk of such work, known as gain-of-function research. “If the [new] virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory,” Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, told Nature.

In October 2013, the US government put a stop to all federal funding for gain-of-function studies, with particular concern rising about influenza, SARS, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). “NIH [National Institutes of Health] has funded such studies because they help define the fundamental nature of human-pathogen interactions, enable the assessment of the pandemic potential of emerging infectious agents, and inform public health and preparedness efforts,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement at the time. “These studies, however, also entail biosafety and biosecurity risks, which need to be understood better.”

Baric’s study on the SHC014-chimeric coronavirus began before the moratorium was announced, and the NIH allowed it to proceed during a review process, which eventually led to the conclusion that the work did not fall under the new restrictions, Baric told Nature. But some researchers, like Wain-Hobson, disagree with that decision.

The debate comes down to how informative the results are. “The only impact of this work is the creation, in a lab, of a new, non-natural risk,” Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and biodefence expert at Rutgers University, told Nature.

But Baric and others argued the study’s importance. “[The results] move this virus from a candidate emerging pathogen to a clear and present danger,” Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, which samples viruses from animals and people in emerging-diseases hotspots across the globe, told Nature.