China accused of cremating bodies in secret as coronavirus patient numbers spike

China has reportedly begun cremating the bodies of those who have died from coronavirus in secret as the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus rises to almost 8000.

It has now infected more people in China than were sickened there during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak.

The number of cases jumped to 7771 in China, surpassing the 5327 people diagnosed with SARS, while the amount of global cases confirmed was at 7894 on Wednesday.

Seven cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Australia across three states.

The death toll, which rose to 170 on Wednesday, is still less than half the number who died in China from SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. Scientists say there are many questions to be answered about the new virus, including just how easily it spreads and how severe it is.

Chinese doctors disinfect for prevention of the new coronavirus and pneumonia before entering the infectious disease and fever clinic at a hospital during the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival holiday in Nanjing City.
Doctors disinfect themselves to protect against coronavirus before entering an infectious disease and fever clinic at a hospital in Nanjing City. Source: AAP

William Yang, a journalist for German publication Deutsche-Welle, claims China is “hiding” the number of deaths from the virus.

Yang cited Initium Media as a “credible” source and journalists had “interviewed people working at local cremation centres”.

The sources confirmed “many dead bodies” were sent directly from hospitals to the cremation centres “without properly identifying these patients”.

“Which means there are patients who died from the virus but not adding to the official record. That shows the current death toll of 133 that we are seeing is way too low,” Yang tweeted before the death toll rose to 170.

His allegations of China misleading the public are also backed by a nurse who claims in a video 90,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus.

Speaking in Chinese, with subtitles, she calls for help.

“We don’t care what the government says,” she says.

“I will tell you through social media. Everyone, please donate masks, glasses and clothes to Wuhan.

“Please help us. Please donate disposable goggles, disposable masks and disposable clothing. Currently our resources are not enough.”

‘Great concern’

The World Health Organisation’s emergencies chief said the few cases of human-to-human spread of the virus outside China — in Japan, Germany, Canada and Vietnam — were of “great concern” and were part of the reason the UN health agency’s director-general was reconvening a committee of experts on Thursday to assess whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.

Dr Michael Ryan spoke at a news conference in Geneva after returning from a trip to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior government leaders.

He said China was taking “extraordinary measures in the face of an extraordinary challenge” posed by the outbreak.

Fully protected medical staff drive an ambulance outside Beijing Ditan Hospital, in Beijing.
Staff outside a hospital in Beijing in protective gear. Source: AAP

Dr Ryan estimated the death rate of the new virus at two per cent, but said the figure was very preliminary.

With fluctuating numbers of cases and deaths, scientists are only able to produce a rough estimate of the fatality rate and it is likely many milder cases of the virus are being missed.

In comparison, the SARS virus killed about 10 per cent of people who caught it. The new virus is from the coronavirus family, which includes those that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as SARS and MERS.

Dr Ryan noted there were several aspects of the new virus outbreak that are extremely worrying, citing the recent rapid spike in cases in China. He said that while scientists believe the outbreak was sparked by an animal virus, it’s unclear if there are other factors driving the epidemic.

“Without understanding that, it’s very hard to put into context the current transmission dynamics,” he said.

Passengers wearing face masks for prevention of the new coronavirus and pneumonia at Beijing Daxing International Airport.
Passengers at Beijing Daxing International Airport during the Chinese New Year holiday. Source: AAP

Evacuations underway

Countries have begun evacuating their citizens from the Chinese city hardest-hit by the virus. Chartered planes carrying about 200 evacuees each arrived in Japan and the United States as other countries planned similar evacuations from the city of Wuhan, which authorities have shut down to try to contain the virus.

The US plane arrived in California after a refuelling stop in Alaska. All 195 passengers, who included diplomats from the US Consulate in Wuhan, passed health screenings in China and Anchorage, and were to undergo three days of monitoring at a southern California military base to ensure they show no signs of the illness.

“The whole plane erupted into cheers when the crew welcomed them back to the United States,” Dr Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, told reporters in Anchorage.

Medical team members heading to Wuhan to reinforce hospitals fighting the coronavirus outbreak prepare to board the train at Nanjing South Railway Station.
Medical professionals head to prepare to board a train at Nanjing South Railway Station for Wuhan. Source: AAP

Four passengers on the evacuation flight to Japan had coughs and fevers, and two were diagnosed with pneumonia. It wasn’t clear whether they were infected with the new virus, which first appeared in Wuhan in December. Its symptoms, including cough and fever and in severe cases pneumonia, are similar to many other illnesses.

Takeo Aoyama, an employee at Nippon Steel Corp’s subsidiary in Wuhan, told reporters he was relieved to return home.

“We were feeling increasingly uneasy as the situation developed so rapidly and we were still in the city,” Mr Aoyama said.

The first cases in the Middle East were confirmed Wednesday, a family of four from Wuhan that was visiting the United Arab Emirates. Airlines around the world announced they were cutting flights to China, and Hong Kong was suspending rail travel to and from the mainland at midnight.

Medical staff carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected with a new strain of Coronavirus identified as the cause of the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak are being treated, in Wuhan, China.
A patient is carried into the Jinyintan hospital in Wuhan in January. Source: AAP
Medical staff work at Wuhan Jinyintan hospital, which specialises in the treatment of severe new coronavirus infected patients transferred from various hospitals in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.
Almost 6,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus. Source: AAP

In China’s Hubei province, 17 cities including Wuhan have been locked down, trapping more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease control measures ever imposed.

During the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, China was slammed for hiding that outbreak for months, allowing it to spread unchecked before reporting it to the WHO. Even after inviting international experts to investigate the epidemic, SARS patients were moved from hospitals and driven around in ambulances to conceal the true extent of the virus’ spread.

With The Associated Press

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