What do we know about the coronavirus victims?

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Originally published by Sky News on February 11, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has infected thousands and killed hundreds – but there has been secrecy surrounding many of the cases.

So what do we know so far about the victims, and are Chinese authorities trying to silence discussion?

What do we know about the victims? 

The first person to die from the new coronavirus was a Wuhan man identified only as 61-year-old Mr Zeng.

He was taken to Wuhan Puren Hospital on 26 December with a fever and difficulty breathing, and died on 9 January.

A report by the Wuhan Health Commission said Mr Zeng had been a regular visitor of Huanan market, where the virus spread from, and already had chronic liver disease and a tumour in his abdomen.

Most of the deaths have been recorded in China’s Hubei province.

So far, only two people have died outside of mainland China – a 44-year-old man in the Philippines who was from Wuhan, and a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong who had travelled to the Chinese city.

Most of those killed were older and had pre-existing health conditions, but a number of “outliers” have been recorded.

Chinese government records list at least five victims under the age of 60 who did not have any known medical conditions.

The youngest outlier was a 36-year-old man and it was unclear why he had succumbed to the illness.

Dr Li Wenliang, 34, one of the first doctors to warn about the coronavirus, died on Friday after testing positive for the virus, the Wuhan hospital where he worked said in a statement.

Dr Li first told members of his medical school alumni group through Chinese messaging app WeChat that a number of patients had been diagnosed with a SARS-like illness and quarantined in his hospital.

The opthalmologist was later visited by police and told to stop.

Dr Li contracted the coronavirus himself after treating a woman for glaucoma who had the illness at Wuhan Central Hospital.

Have any children been affected? 

A newborn baby who tested positive at 36 hours old is the youngest known person infected with the virus.

The child was born at the Wuhan Children’s Hospital in Hubei province on 2 February, but precisely how they became infected was unclear.

Zeng Lingkong, director of neonatal diseases at Wuhan Children’s Hospital, told Chinese TV: “There was no close contact with the parents, yet it was diagnosed with the disease.”

Mr Zeng said other infected mothers have given birth to babies who tested negative, so it is not yet known if the virus can be transmitted in the womb.

According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), cases of the coronavirus in children have been rare.

However, there have been several reports of children infected with the virus, including a 10-year-old who had travelled with his family to Wuhan from Shenzhen.

A report published in The Lancet said other members of the child’s family had experienced symptoms such as fever and pneumonia, but the child had showed no outward symptoms – despite doctors finding signs of viral pneumonia in his lungs.

A nine-year-old British child was diagnosed with coronavirus on 9 February in France after staying in a ski chalet with businessman Steve Walsh, who has been linked to 11 British cases after he contracted the virus in Singapore.

Where else has the virus spread to? 

Cases of the coronavirus have been reported in 27 countries outside mainland China, although there is still little detail on those infected.

Eight people in the UK have tested positive for coronavirus, with all but two linked to Mr Walsh, who is thought to be a “superspreader”.

Other countries affected include Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Australia, Germany, United States, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, France, United Arab Emirates, Canada, India, Philippines, Russia, Italy, Belgium, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Spain, Cambodia and Finland.

Why don’t we know more about the victims? 

China has vowed repeatedly to be open and transparent in dealing with the coronavirus.

However, campaigners and journalists have claimed that Chinese authorities have tried to play down the true scale of the outbreak by deleting social media posts and news articles from the internet.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders , a nonprofit that tracks human rights, says it has compiled a list of at least 254 people punished by authorities for “spreading rumours” about the crisis.

Renee Xia, a spokesperson for Chinese Human Rights Defenders, told Sky News: “Authorities have issued ordinances to warn people from ‘spreading rumours’ or ‘sharing misinformation’ about the virus or discussing government responses to the virus outbreak.

“Until today, police have continued to knock on doors to take away or intimidate people who discuss the outbreak online in WeChat groups, or posting messages in Twitter, or videos on Facebook.”

She added: “The Chinese political system lacks transparency. It’s hard to know precisely when and how much authorities knew about the spread of the virus.”

A news article published by Caijing about people who had died without being tested for coronavirus, and who may have gone “uncounted”, apparently disappeared from the internet.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK reported several journalists had been stopped while filming outside Jinyintan Hospital, taken to a police station and asked to delete their footage.

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