February 21, 2020 / 11:38 AM / a month ago

Chinese capital battles jump in virus cases as infections ease elsewhere

BEIJING (Reuters) - The number of people who have contracted the coronavirus in the Chinese capital has jumped sharply, including more than 30 in an outbreak at a major hospital, while many other parts of the country are reporting fewer or no new infections.

Officials on Friday reported one new case in Beijing as of Feb. 20, bringing the total in the city to 396, with four dead.

Twenty-three cases were recorded the previous day.

The new cases largely stemmed from a major hospital about 6 k, (3.7 miles) west of Tiananmen Square, and come as China’s leaders decide whether to postpone their annual gathering of parliament, the year’s most important political event, originally set for early March.

Eight health workers, nine care workers and cleaners, and 19 patients and their family members were among the 36 cases confirmed at Fuxing Hospital thus far, Pang Xinghuo, vice head of Beijing’s disease control centre, told reporters on Thursday.

The hospital only had nine cases as of Feb. 3.

“I feel deeply guilty and distressed by the cluster case incident at Fuxing Hospital,” Li Dongxia, the hospital’s director, told the same briefing.

The infections also caught the attention of the Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, which ran a story under the headline: “Whopping rise in infection at Beijing hospital puts capital on alert.”

The city’s total cases now rank 13th among provincial-level jurisdictions.

To control the spread of the virus, Beijing and other cities have ordered measures including reduced opening hours at shopping malls, temperature checks in public spaces, and disinfection at residential compounds.

Shop owner Wang Yuying disinfects her vegetables shop near a residential compound, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Beijing, China February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Beijing also requires that people arriving from elsewhere in China quarantine at home for 14 days. Migrant workers are steadily returning to the city of more than 20 million after a long Lunar New Year break, which was extended to give authorities more time to try to contain the virus.

“So disappointed! I was brought up in the district and thought it’s the safest bastion because it’s the heart of the country,” one person wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo.

Nationwide, more than 75,400 people have been confirmed infected with the coronavirus and 2,236 have died, mostly in central Hubei province and its capital of Wuhan where the virus emerged in a wildlife market in December.

Reporting by Ryan Woo and Lusha Zhang; Additional reporting by Yan Zhang, Yawen Chen and Cheng Leng in Beijing; Editing by Tony Munroe and Kim Coghill

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