BEIJING – The number of confirmed cases of the new virus has risen again in China while fatalities increased to 722 early today as the ruling Communist Party faced anger and recriminations from the public over the death of a doctor who was threatened by police after trying to sound the alarm about the disease over a month ago.
The government announced that an additional 3,399 people had been diagnosed over the last 24 hours, reversing two days of declines, and raising the total accumulated number of cases on the mainland to 34,546.
Cruise ship passengers faced more woe as Japan reported three more cases for a total of 64 on one quarantined vessel and turned away another. President Xi Jinping spoke with President Donald Trump on Friday and urged the U.S. to “respond reasonably” to the outbreak, echoing complaints that some countries are overreacting by restricting Chinese travelers.
Following an online uproar over the government's treatment of Dr. Li Wenliang, the Communist Party struck a conciliatory note, saying it is sending a team to “fully investigate relevant issues raised by the public.”
Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, contracted the virus while treating patients, and his death was confirmed early Friday. Li, one of eight medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not, had said that police forced him to sign a statement admitting he spread falsehoods.
Even the staunchly pro-government Global Times newspaper said the treatment of Li and other whistleblowers was “evidence of local authorities' incompetence to tackle a contagious and deadly virus.”
The episode has raised longstanding complaints that party officials lie about or cover up disease outbreaks, chemical spills, dangerous consumer products or financial frauds. Chinese citizens can be jailed on charges of rumor-mongering or making trouble.
Most of the deaths from the virus have been of older people with existing health problems, but disease specialists said Li's work – eye doctors sit very close to their patients during examinations – may have subjected him to an extra large dose of the virus that made his illness more severe.
In Japan, three more cases were diagnosed today among 3,700 passengers and crew om the quarantined Diamond Princess. Those aboard remain under 14-day quarantine.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said foreign passengers on another ship, Holland America's Westerdam, won't be allowed into Japan. He said suspected virus patients were on board. The ship, with more than 2,000 people, was near Okinawa and was seeking another port, said Overseas Travel Agency official Mie Matsubara.
“We are getting desperate,” she said. “We hope we can go somewhere so that passengers can land.”
The U.S. announced later Friday that it is prepared to spend up to $100 million to help China and other countries fight the outbreak. The government also said it helped with the effort to deliver nearly 18 tons of medical supplies donated to the Chinese by the U.S. people, including masks, gowns, gauze and respirators.
All but one the deaths in the outbreak have been in China. China's National Health Commission said about 6,101 of those being treated, or nearly 17%, are in serious condition. The vast majority of the infected are in China; roughly 290 others are in about two dozen other countries, including Japan, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea.
The U.S. has reported 12 cases. Hundreds more Americans evacuated from the stricken zone in China began arriving Friday in the U.S., where they will be quarantined on military bases for two weeks.
In Hong Kong, shoppers fearing the city's efforts to combat the virus' spread could cause shortages of necessities lined up Friday at a pharmacy in central Hong Kong to buy toilet paper.
“I have friends who couldn't get hold of it, so I am helping them to buy it,” said one of the buyers, an accountant who gave her surname, Yeung. “But I don't know why there are rumors saying that there is no tissue paper, so everyone is worried.”
The lines outside shops and the emptying of shelves come despite the government's insistence that its virus-control measures won't disrupt cross-border freight from mainland China, which supplies much of Hong Kong's perishables and other essentials.