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Coronavirus Update: Travel Bans Try To Isolate China


A new patient has tested positive for coronavirus here in the United States, bumping the total nationwide up to eight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, in China, the number of cases has topped 14,000 with more than 300 deaths reported so far. And the first death from the disease outside of China has just been reported in the Philippines. To help us understand the latest, we've reached out to NPR's Jason Beaubien in Hong Kong. Hey, Jason.


FOLKENFLIK: The U.S. has put in place new measures to ban foreigners who have been in China and to quarantine U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are coming back from China. This appears to have inspired many other nations to follow suit. What's happening on that front?

BEAUBIEN: I mean, this really is remarkable, both what the United States is doing in terms of banning anybody who's been in China who is not a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident and then other countries piling on. You've got Australia, Japan. They're all barring Chinese nationals. Iraq just jumped in and said no one who's been in China can come. You've got Russia shutting its border, Kazakhstan, Mongolia shutting their borders, Italy even saying that they're not going to allow any Chinese to enter. Yeah. It's been pretty dramatic.

FOLKENFLIK: So what is exactly the situation there in China? We're seeing a rising number of those confirmed cases. But are things getting under control?

BEAUBIEN: Wuhan continues to be the epicenter. That city remains under lockdown. Visitors are not allowed to come and go from the entire province. People are supposed to stay indoors. One neighboring city to Wuhan actually issued an order saying that each household is allowed to have one person go out every other day to go shopping and collect supplies. Researchers are saying that in Wuhan itself, they think there might be 70,000 cases already just in terms of the backlog of people getting through the process of getting tested and actually ending up in the hospital. Are things getting under control? I would say no. China is also opening new quarantine centers in Wuhan. They're saying that cremations are the only way they can dispose of the bodies. So there's more of this ramping up than getting this under control.

FOLKENFLIK: In terms of how it's spreading, has that become any clearer?

BEAUBIEN: Clearly, it's human-to-human transmission. The Chinese National Health Commission - they had a press conference today. And they were saying that the spread is what medical professionals refer to as large droplets. Basically, people sneeze, or they cough. And bits of the virus sort of fly through the air. And that changes the way that you deal with it. It means that stuff flies through the air, lands on surfaces. But it is still not entirely clear that that is the only way that it can be transmitted.

FOLKENFLIK: So we're getting some information here from Chinese health authorities. And yet there are reports that, initially, Chinese officials worked hardest, it seemed, to suppress news of this getting out, rather than to act in concert with local and international health authorities, try to get this under control. What have we learned there?

BEAUBIEN: Absolutely. I think in the very early days, they did not want to admit that this was going on. There was an attempt to crush people who were saying there's a problem here. But since then, they have actually worked very closely with the World Health Organization. They have shared what they know about the virus. It is much better than what the situation was during SARS in 2003. And the delays over China coming forward with how big the problem was with SARS was part of the entire SARS problem. Things are much better this time around, even if they're not perfect.

FOLKENFLIK: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien joining me from Hong Kong. Jason, thanks.

BEAUBIEN: David, it's been my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.