Deadliest day for coronavirus victims
Coronavirus deaths have leapt 242 in a single day - the biggest rise ever - as the total cases of infection soar past 60,000.
There were 242 deaths on Thursday alone in Hubei province and authorities also found that even more people than they thought were infected.
After changing the way they record the virus, the Hubei Health Commission found there were 15,000 more than they thought. That means the figure shot up from 45,000 to 60,000 in the world in a single day.
The new deaths were more than twice the prior provincial daily record of 103 set on Monday.
JAPAN WARNS OF NEW CORONAVIRUS CASES
Japan's Health Minister Katsunobu Kato announced 44 new cases, including an Australian, as well as a plan to start moving more vulnerable passengers off the cruise ship.
Mr Kato also said Japan had also recorded its first fatality from coronavirus.
He said a woman in her 80s, who had been hospitalised since February 1, had the coronavirus diagnosis come after her death.
Mr Kato said there were 44 new cases on the Diamond Princess but that the dead woman had not been on the boat.
The Diamond Princess is still carrying nearly 3500 passengers and crew members with 218 people infected with the virus.
AUSSIES DESCRIBES WUHAN CHAOS
An Australian racehorse trainer stranded in Wuhan says scenes in the coronavirus epicentre are "out of this world", as officials revealed a record number of deaths in the city today.
Rui Severino said news that 242 people had died of the virus in one day had sent shockwaves through the local community.
"The official numbers that they've released this morning are very scary," he said.
The latest fatalities put the death toll from the deadly virus at more than 1300.
A further 14,840 people were also reported to have contracted the virus, bringing the total number of cases in mainland China to more than 48,000.
But Mr Severino said the increase might be due to a massive step-up in screening that started last week.
"They've been screening every single person that lives in Wuhan and in the province of Hubei, and I'm talking in the city of Wuhan 11 million people and they go to everyone's house, every single house, every single person gets screened and I believe that's why we're seeing these new cases," he said.
The former Melbourne and Darwin trainer is working at Wuhan's Yulong Jockey Club, where about 100 staff train almost 500 racehorses.
He and his staff undergo medical screenings twice each day.
"Everybody wears masks," he said.
"We're still working our horses, we're still ticking over our horses, but of course we are worried.
"But at the same time the feeling is, especially the Chinese, they're very patriotic and they're very united and there's a big feeling that the government will be able to overcome this, but everybody knows it is quite serious."
Mr Severino said the scenes on Wuhan's deserted streets were eerie.
Each family of four can send one person out for two hours every two days to get food, otherwise they have to remain at home.
"Physically it's not apocalyptic - there's no armed guards on the street, there's no people following around - but psychologically it's very, very surreal," he said.
"When we used to go out you might normally see hundreds of thousands of people. Now you don't see anyone. You might see one person, two people, and everyone sort of looks sideways to each other and if you're in the stores to buy groceries everyone keeps their distance from each other. It's out of this world."
Mr Severino said locals were closely following authorities' directions and taking extra personal precautions.
"No-one really wants to go anywhere because people are scared, right, so when you touch the elevator you touch it with a lighter or touch with something you can disinfect later … it's worrying," he said.
He said he had declined offers from the Australian embassy to fly home, choosing instead to stay with his horses and staff.
Mr Severino has two young sons in Melbourne who he last saw at Christmas before flying back just days before the outbreak was made public.
"They've asked me a couple of times, 'what's the mask for Dad' and I just tell them 'oh, I've got a bit of a cold' because they're very young and I don't want to worry them, you know."
MAN EXECUTED FOR VISITING BATH HOUSE
A North Korean official has been executed for going to a public bath while he was meant to be in quarantine, a report in the South has claimed.
The trade official was arrested and immediately shot after risking the spread of coronavirus by visiting the public bath, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported.
The official had been placed in isolation after travelling to China, with Kim Jong-un imposing military law to enforce the lockdown, sources said.
He is said to have fallen foul of a decree by Kim Jong-un which vowed to "rule by military law" against anyone who left quarantine without approval.
Meanwhile, two women held at Russian hospitals over coronavirus fears were so appalled by the poor conditions there that they escaped - one by jumping out a window.
Both women were hospitalised after returning from Hainan, a tropical region in southern China popular with Russian tourists - about 1600km south of Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
One of them, who goes by GuzelNeder on Instagram, explained in a post last week that her son came down with a cough and a fever four days after the family returned to their home in the city of Samara.
She called emergency services, which diagnosed the boy with a viral respiratory infection and said both mother and son must be hospitalised for coronavirus tests.
The hospital initially said results would be ready in three days - but then pushed it back to five, even though the boy's condition was improving, the mum wrote. Hospital personnel obstructed her from pressing for results, she claimed.
By her fifth day of quarantine, she said, she wasn't feeling well and took a home pregnancy test - which came back positive.
At that point, she was desperate to leave because of her pregnancy and concerns about becoming infected. But the doctor said both mother and son still needed to complete the 14-day quarantine period - even if the virus test came back negative.
"My son was hysterical," she wrote. "There was no exit for us other than to leave the hospital without authorization, through the window."
Since her escape, police have questioned her at home, but no charges were reported.
"Everyone in my family is alive and healthy, thank God," she wrote.
CHINA SACKS OFFICIALS OF CORONAVIRUS PROVINCE
China has replaced its top officials in the central province of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan, the epicentre of a viral coronavirus 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.
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.
PM EXTENDS CHINA TRAVEL BAN
The Government has extended the ban on foreign nationals coming to Australia from mainland China.
The ban, which was in force until Saturday, will now run for another seven days before being reviewed again.
The move, not unexpected, will be another blow to the embattled tourism and university sectors.
"We've agreed to accept the recommendations that have been provided to us to maintain the ban on the entry restriction of foreign nationals who have recently been to mainland China for a further week to protect Australians from the risk of coronavirus,'' Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, following a meeting of Cabinet's National Security Committee.
"This is something we will continue to review on a weekly basis and to consider all the medical evidence that is coming forward.
Mr Morrison said the decision had not been taken lightly but noted Australia was one of 58 countries that had enforced some sort of restriction on people coming from mainland China, where the virus was not yet under control.
He urged Australians to "reach out and support'' the Australian-Chinese community and visit their businesses to help through a difficult time.
The prime minister also said the Government would consider all "sensible measures'' to "mitigate the impact'' of the travel ban on the Australian economy, although it was not yet considering specific economic assistance for the tourism and university sectors.
Around 25,000 Australian residents and citizens had been allowed into Australia from China since the ban was declared, and none had contracted the virus.
AUSTRALIA TO INSPECT VIRUS-HIT CRUISE SHIP
Australia is sending a public health officer to the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan to see if it was still appropriate to hold passengers on board, given the high rate of infections on the ship.
"Ships are known as incredible places where infectious diseases can be transmitted,'' Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said.
"At the moment the period of time … is still consistent with everyone having been infected before the quarantine was put in place.
"But if further cases continue to come you'd have to wonder about the quarantine.''
The announcement came as dozens more infected people were pulled off the cruise ship, that has become the largest coronavirus cluster outside China.
Japan's Health Minister Katsunobu Kato announced 44 new cases on Thursday as well as a plan to start moving more vulnerable passengers off the cruise ship.
The vessel is docked in Yokohama, near Tokyo.
People aged 80 or older who test negative for coronavirus but have underlying medical conditions and are confined to windowless rooms will be disembarked to Japanese government housing facilities for the remainder of the quarantine period that ends February 19.
That process is scheduled to begin on Friday, but in the meantime another fleet of ambulances was transporting the newly diagnosed to hospitals in the greater Tokyo area.
Mr Kato held a press conference to outline the latest developments, offering a breakdown of the soaring numbers.
He said almost all of the new cases are aged 70 or older, there are 23 men and 21 women, and 43 passengers and one crew. Most are Japanese but there are 15 foreigners.
The 44 positive results came from a total of 221 tests.
It's believed there may be one Australian among the new cases. At least 15 Australians have been infected so far and taken to hospitals onshore.
The Japanese government slapped a two-week quarantine order on the Diamond Princess on Wednesday last week when it became apparent there was an outbreak on board.
It has about 3500 passengers and crew remaining after the disembarkation of 218 people who have caught the virus.
Including the cruise ship outbreak, Japan is dealing with almost 250 coronavirus cases in total.
As the illness spreads, the Australian Ambassador to Japan, former Western Australia premier Richard Court, has reached out by email to those caught up in the Diamond Princess situation.
"I want you to know your Government, through the Embassy in Tokyo, is totally committed to your welfare and safety," he wrote.
Mr Court explained the focus of embassy-led efforts was to ensure the Australians on board were receiving the medical care and the prescription medicine they needed.
For those in hospital, progress was "encouraging".
He added that his team is seeking urgent clarification from the Japanese government and the cruise operator about what will happen to passengers once the quarantine period ends.
As the lockdown drags on for the confined passengers, the Australian government and Princess Cruises are offering telephone counselling services.
TOURISM SECTOR PUTS OUT AN SOS
Coronavirus will hit Australian tourism operators even harder than the bushfires, the head of the sector's peak body said as he made a plea for the federal government to double the size of its industry assistance package.
Australian Tourism Industry Council executive director Simon Westaway said the closure of the Chinese inbound travel market represented $1 billion in lost spending, putting small and medium tourism operators under immediate cashflow pressure.
Many were already cutting staff hours as a result.
"It is abundantly clear the overall cost of coronavirus to Australian tourism enterprises and tourism reliant communities will exceed the level of financial and operational impact caused by the devastating bushfires," Mr Westaway said.
The request for more funding came as the federal government extended the ban on Chinese visitors entering Australia for a further week. It had originally been intended to expire this weekend.
A survey of 900 ATIC members found that one in two had experienced cancellations as a result of coronavirus, one in three reported major cancellations, and 30 per cent said they expected the outbreak to have a serious impact on their business, he said.
Seventy-five per cent of survey respondents were "already, or about to be impacted by coronavirus, via extensive cancellations and dried up visitor spending," he said.
Mr Westaway said the sudden drop in the 1.5 million annual Chinese visitors had a national impact, as they tended to visit many parts of Australia, but he said "crunch points" such as Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Cairns and pockets of regional Victoria would be hit particularly hard.
By way of example he said visitor numbers to Phillip Island were down 60 per cent on the same time last year.
The ATIC has called on the federal government to match the $76 million tourism industry boost announced after the bushfires with another $76 million package, including an extra $25 million for international marketing efforts, $20 million for small business support and $15 million for regions most exposed to the Chinese market.
In response to the ATIC request, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said: "There are no silver bullets to ease the pain being felt by many tourism businesses at present".
"We have begun the planning required to ensure that when these temporary travels restrictions are lifted and as global travel confidence improves, Australia quickly re-establishes our place as a hugely popular, welcoming and safe destination for Chinese and other visitors."
The Morrison Government would look to "recalibrate any measures within our already record tourism budget.
"During this period, I also urge Australians to continue with confidence to travel within Australia.
"The best way Australians can support our tourism and hospitality businesses and save local jobs is to book a trip in Australia, holiday here this year or support your local Chinese restaurant or business who may presently be doing it tough."