New clusters in Chinese prisons and a spike in cases in two Beijing hospitals raise new concerns.

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A rise in cases in South Korea is tied to a secretive church.


Credit…Chinatopix, via Associated Press

Chinese officials in the province hardest hit by the coronavirus acknowledged for the first time on Friday that their methods of confirming and reporting infection numbers had sown confusion and mistrust.

They pledged to share data more openly and efficiently.

Over the past week, the authorities in the province of Hubei, home to the city at the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, have revised their case tallies three times because of shifting definitions of what counts as a confirmed case and what officials described as previously unknown information.

“The adjustment of these data has aroused great attention from the society and cast doubt on the numbers,” Tu Yuanchao, deputy director of the Hubei Provincial Health and Health Commission, said at a news conference on Friday.

The first revision occurred last week after national health officials ordered Hubei to expand its definition for confirmed cases, leading to a record-high jump in diagnoses. Then, on Tuesday, the national authorities reversed themselves — leading some state and city officials to revise already published numbers by subtracting cases.

The third revision came on Friday, when the authorities added more than 200 new cases to their previously published total. Those new infections had been confirmed belatedly among prisoners in Hubei, because the provincial prison department did not have access to the province’s epidemic reporting system, Mr. Tu said.

The authorities will no longer subtract cases from existing totals, Mr. Tu said. He said that the new secretary of Hubei Province “attached great importance” to the reductions and had “explicitly requested” that they be added back in — a move that may further confuse attempts to understand the scale of the epidemic.

The acknowledgment by provincial leaders came as national officials announced on Friday that 889 new cases of the coronavirus had been reported in China in the previous 24 hours, raising the overall total above 75,000.

The death toll went up by 118, to 2,236.

China faced a new front in the coronavirus epidemic on Friday as officials reported clusters of infections in at least four prisons in three provinces. The outbreaks, affecting at least 512 prisoners and guards, raised the specter of the disease spreading through the country’s extensive prison system.

Two of the prisons are in Hubei Province, where the epidemic originated. Wuhan Women’s Prison reported 230 confirmed cases, while another 41 prisoners tested positive in Hanjin Prison in Shayang County, to the west, according to a statement on the provincial government’s website.

In Shandong Province, officials announced on Friday that 207 cases had emerged in a prison in the city of Jining, 450 miles east of Wuhan. The outbreak prompted the local authorities to dismiss Xie Weijun, the director and party secretary of the provincial justice department, which oversees the prisons there, along with seven other officials.

The cases there may have spread from a prison guard who developed a cough on Feb. 12 and tested positive for the virus the next day, according to a statement on Friday by the provincial government. A second guard was also found to have the virus that day after a nucleic acid test, prompting the prison authorities to begin screening the entire prison population. His diagnosis has since been confirmed.

In all, 2,077 prisoners and prison workers were tested in Shandong, with 200 prisoners and seven guards testing positive for the coronavirus. No deaths have been reported.

The Shandong government is carrying out inspections at other prisons and medical centers where prisoners are being treated for illnesses, including drug and alcohol addiction. It also plans “to quickly set up a hospital” on prison grounds to treat those infected, the statement said.

A similar outbreak in Zhejiang Province prompted the dismissal of a warden and a party secretary at a prison in the city of Quzhou. The facility reported 27 new infections on Friday, according to a report in China Daily, bringing the total number of prisoners infected there to 34. A prison guard is also believed to be the source of those infections.

South Korea reported a surge in confirmed infections and a second death from the coronavirus on Friday, with the latest outbreak linked to a secretive church whose members account for two-thirds of the new infections in the country.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?

      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?

      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?

      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?

      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?

      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?

      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

Health officials are zeroing in on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus — whose members continued to sit packed together on the floor of the church even when sick — as they seek to contain the country’s alarming outbreak.

On Friday, the number of cases in the country soared above 200 — second only to mainland China, if the outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship is excluded from Japan’s count.

More than 540 other church members have reported potential symptoms, health officials said, raising the possibility that the nation’s caseload could soon skyrocket further. In response, the government is shutting down thousands of kindergartens, nursing homes and community centers, even banning the outdoor political rallies that are a feature of life in downtown Seoul.

As of Friday, more than 340 members of Shincheonji, which mainstream South Korean churches consider a cult, still could not be reached, according to health officials, who were frantically hoping to screen them for signs of infection.

The church, founded by Lee Man-hee in 1984, says it has over 200,000 members around the world, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap. It closed all of its churches in South Korea this week and told followers to watch its services online.

The church dismissed criticism of its practices on Friday, calling it “slandering based on the prejudices among the established churches.”

A spike in coronavirus cases at two Beijing hospitals has raised fears that the epidemic could be growing in a city that has so far largely been spared.

Compared with other cities, Beijing has had relatively few cases: 396 as of Thursday, and four deaths. But Fuxing Hospital now has at least 36 infections, a sizable increase since Feb. 3, when officials first announced that five medical workers there had tested positive.

Peking University Hospital also recorded three cases: a woman who had previously been hospitalized and her daughter and son-in-law who visited her after traveling to Xinjiang, the western region. The couple tested positive for the virus on Feb. 17, days after Beijing’s municipal government announced that all people arriving in the capital must quarantine themselves for 14 days or face legal consequences.

On Friday, officials said that people flying into the city from abroad who had not been in China in the previous 14 days would be exempt from the rules.

Beijing’s measures appear to reflect a strong effort by officials to minimize the spread of the epidemic in the capital as millions of workers return from a prolonged break following the Lunar New Year. Since the new measures were announced, the city authorities have stepped up efforts to control movement in the city, which has been uncharacteristically deserted for nearly a month.

The National People’s Congress, the country’s legislative body, also announced that it was preparing to postpone its annual meetings, scheduled for the first week of March.

A 29-year-old respiratory doctor in Wuhan, the city at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak in China, died on Thursday night after being infected by the virus, according to an announcement from the hospital where he worked. It was the latest in a string of deaths among health care providers working to contain the outbreak.

The doctor, Peng Yinhua, was also among the youngest of the publicly announced victims of the virus, which has largely killed older men with underlying health conditions.

On Chinese social media, users expressed shock at Dr. Peng’s age. They also cited state media reports that Dr. Peng had planned to get married on Feb. 1, but that he had postponed the wedding because of the epidemic.

Last month, the death of another young Wuhan doctor, Li Wenliang, provoked an outpouring of anger and grief on social media. Dr. Li, 34, had been reprimanded by the local authorities for trying to warn his medical school classmates about the virus before officials had acknowledged an outbreak. When Dr. Li died of the virus, he became a potent symbol of perceived government mismanagement and concealment.

After Dr. Peng’s death, some users seemed to nod to Dr. Li as well. “We send away another hero,” one person wrote on Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like platform.

“Exactly how many more medical staff have to die?” another wrote.

Earlier this week, another high-profile doctor, Liu Zhiming, died. Dr. Liu was the director of the Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan.

Ukraine’s minister of health said on Friday that she would join a group of evacuees from China in a quarantined rural hospital, in the hope of calming angry protests from neighbors opposed to living near potentially infected people.

The minister, Zoryana Skaletska, said on Facebook that she would abide by the same rules as the 45 Ukrainians and 27 people of other nationalities who were evacuated from Hubei Province, the center of the coronavirus outbreak in China, to the Poltava region in eastern Ukraine.

Pilots, flight attendants and doctors who carried out the evacuation are also now quarantined at the site. Once Ms. Skaletska enters the hospital, near the village of Novi Sanzhary, she will not be allowed to leave the guarded site until the quarantine is lifted, she said.

“I will spend the next 14 days together with them, on the same premises, and under the same conditions,” she said in a statement on Thursday. “I hope my presence will calm those in Novi Sanzhary and the rest of the country.”

Fear of the virus had gripped the village. On Thursday, residents blocked a road with cars and burned tires to prevent buses with evacuees from passing. The Ukrainian National Guard used armored personnel carriers to clear the road. Protesters then hurled stones at the buses, breaking windows.

Heightening tensions in Ukraine, the return of the plane carrying evacuees coincided with online rumors that the coronavirus was already spreading in the country. Protests broke out even in towns far from the quarantine site. Ukraine has reported no cases of coronavirus infection.

Officials in Canada announced a new case of the coronavirus on Friday in a patient who had recently returned from Iran, which itself had just confirmed its first few cases of the virus.

Iranian officials on Wednesday announced two coronavirus cases in the country, and then just hours later reported that both patients had died. On Friday, officials there announced two more deaths and said the patients were among 13 new confirmed cases, The Associated Press reported.

Israel also reported its first case, a passenger who had been brought back to the country from the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship docked off Yokohama on board which hundreds of people have been infected with the virus. The Health Ministry stressed that “this is not an infection that occurred in Israel.”

The case of the new Canadian patient, the sixth in the western province of British Columbia, could raise fears of cluster cases and an expanding global reach of the virus. Health officials are investigating viral clusters in South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Britain and France.

The source of the virus in Iran remains unknown. A senior health official there said that none of the people who have been diagnosed had traveled to China or been in contact with anyone who had traveled there, according to the state-controlled IRIB news agency.

The authorities in British Columbia said the new patient was a woman in her 30s, who was presumed positive based on local testing and was awaiting final confirmation from national officials.

With much of China still on lockdown, businesses are struggling to get up and running. Foxconn, the Taiwan company that manufactures Apple’s iPhones and other gadgets, indicated just how difficult that will be.

The company on Thursday said its revenues would take a hit from the spread of the coronavirus, and that it would be “cautious” in resuming work at its factories in China. Plants outside of the country, in places like Vietnam and Mexico, were at full capacity, the company said.

The warning comes as Chinese leaders try to balance restarting the economy with controlling the spread of the coronavirus. Following repeated extensions of the Lunar New Year holiday, many migrant workers remain at home, facing mandatory quarantines and lockdowns. A number of businesses and officials have issued warnings that such policies need to be relaxed to avoid a new economic crisis.

Even if factories get all their workers back, other policies are likely to make work difficult. Some local governments require new preventive measures, like requiring workers to wear masks, or housing each worker in a single dorm room. In other cases, cities have invoked mandatory two-week quarantines on all returning workers.

Concerns about production at Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics, underscore the broader impact the epidemic could have on global supply chains. A huge portion of the world’s electronics come out of China’s factories. A longer suspension of production could hit overall supply.

The Chinese Embassy in Nepal has attacked a Nepalese newspaper for publishing a column criticizing Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and an illustration of Mao Zedong wearing a face mask.

The Embassy said in a statement this week that the Kathmandu Post had “deliberately smeared” the government and people of China, and “viciously attacked” the nation’s political system.

The statement, which singled out the paper’s top editor, was the latest example of the Chinese government’s increasingly muscular brand of diplomacy and its efforts to publicly quash criticism of its policies, even abroad. This week, Beijing also announced it would expel three Wall Street Journal reporters in retaliation for a headline on an opinion piece.

The column in question in the Kathmandu Post is a syndicated opinion piece, entitled “China’s secrecy has made coronavirus crisis much worse.” It was originally published in The Korea Herald and reprinted by the Post on Tuesday. The paper accompanied the column with an illustration of a Chinese bank note digitally altered to depict Mao wearing a surgical face mask.

The Chinese Embassy’s rebuke singled out Anup Kaphle, the Kathmandu Post’s editor in chief, saying that he was “a parrot of some anti-China forces.” It warned that the Chinese government could take further action.

One of Asia’s poorest and least-developed democracies, Nepal has grown closer to China as it seeks to reduce its dependence on India. Chinese investors have pumped millions of dollars into the country.

In an editorial on Wednesday, the newspaper alluded to China’s growing economic influence on Nepal and accused the embassy of violating diplomatic norms by using threatening language against the outlet and disparaging its top editor.

“The Chinese embassy’s statement, ultimately, is not just about the Post, or its Editor-in-Chief,” the editorial said. “It is a rebuke to not bite the hand that feeds.”

Reporting and research were contributed by Vivian Wang, Paul Mozur, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Choe Sang-Hun, Roni Caryn Rabin, Carlos Tejada, Elaine Yu, Steven Lee Myers, Tiffany May, Andrew E. Kramer, Amber Wang, Claire Fu, Yiwei Wang, and Zoe Mou.

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