China picks ex-Shanghai mayor to lead in virus epicenter

  • Associated Press Residents wearing masks wait Thursday at a traffic light in Beijing. China is struggling to restart its economy after the annual Lunar New Year holiday was extended to try to keep people home and contain novel coronavirus. Traffic remained light in Beijing, and many people were still working at home.

BEIJING — China on Thursday replaced its top officials in central Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan, the epicenter of a viral outbreak that has infected more than 45,000 people worldwide.

Former Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong succeeds Jiang Chaoliang as the ruling Communist Party’s chief in the beleaguered province, the Xinhua state news agency reported, while Wang Zhonglin will take over from Ma Guoqiang as the party secretary in Wuhan.

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The high-level appointments follow the sacking earlier this week of two leaders of the provincial health commission. State media also reported that a slew of others were expelled from the party for transgressions related to the epidemic.

The public has widely criticized local officials for their handling of the outbreak of a new form of coronavirus. The virus first surfaced December in Hubei’s capital, Wuhan, and has since spread to more than two dozen countries.

Many countries have implemented travel restrictions on recent visitors to China, which has more than 99% of the world’s reported infections.

In an unprecedented measure to contain the disease, recently dubbed COVID-19, the Chinese government has placed the hardest-hit cities — home to more than 60 million — under lockdown.

Japan’s Health Ministry announced Thursday that 44 more people on a cruise ship quarantined in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo, have tested positive for COVID-19. The ship has 218 infections among its 3,700 passengers and crew.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters five of the patients who were already sent to hospitals for isolation and treatment of COVID-19 have severe symptoms and are on artificial respirators or under intensive care.

Another cruise ship, the Westerdam, finally anchored Thursday off Cambodia after being turned away by several Asian and Pacific governments. No cases of the viral illness have been confirmed among its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members, according to operator Holland America Line.

Thailand refused to allow the Westerdam to dock this week after it had already been turned away by the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and Guam over virus concerns.

The Westerdam began its cruise in Singapore last month and its last stop before it was refused further landings was in Hong Kong, where 50 cases of the viral disease have been confirmed.

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On Wednesday, Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of emergencies for the World Health Organization, said “it’s way too early to try to predict the beginning of the end” of the virus outbreak in China.

He said it is reassuring the number of daily cases appears to be stabilizing, due mainly to China’s huge public health operation, which has placed 60 million people under a lockdown. But he says officials are not going to “speak about numbers or dates, we need to focus on the task” of containing the virus that has infected over 43,000 people and killed more than 1,000.

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