Coronavirus live updates: China reports 1,541 asymptomatic cases under observation

(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 42,000 people around the world, including over 4,000 in the United States.

The new respiratory virus, which causes an illness known officially as COVID-19, was first detected in China back in December. There are now more than 860,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 across 180 countries and regions, spanning every continent except Antartica. Over 178,000 of those patients have recovered from the disease, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

With more than 189,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, the United States has by far the highest national tally in the world. At least 4,081 people have died from the disease in the United States, eclipsing China’s death toll.

Still, Italy and Spain have the highest nationwide death tolls, accounting for half of all the world’s fatalities from the virus, with a collective total of nearly 21,000.

Here’s how the news is developing Wednesday. All times Eastern:

5:47 a.m.: Turkmenistan bans the word ‘coronavirus’

The government of Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most closed countries, has reportedly banned the word “coronavirus.”

The word has been removed from health information brochures distributed in schools, hospitals and workplaces, and state-run media are no longer allowed to use the word, according to independent news website Turkmenistan Chronicle, which is blocked within the country.

Police in plainclothes are arresting people wearing face masks or talking about the coronavirus pandemic on the street, according to Radio Azatlyk, the Turkmen-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

So far, Turkmenistan has not reported any cases of the novel coronavirus. The country’s president has ordered public spaces to be disinfected as a protective measure.

“The Turkmen authorities have lived up to their reputation by adopting this extreme method for eradicating all information about the coronavirus,” Jeanne Cavelier, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement Tuesday. “This denial of information not only endangers the Turkmen citizens most at risk but also reinforces the authoritarianism imposed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. We urge the international community to react and to take him to task for his systematic human rights violations.”

3:30 a.m.: China reports 1,541 asymptomatic cases under observation

There are at least 1,541 people with asymptomatic infections of the novel coronavirus under medical observation in China, including 205 people from overseas, according to the Chinese National Health Commission.

China began publishing the number of asymptomatic cases on Wednesday. The infected individuals, who show no symptoms but are still believed to be contagious, were excluded from the official tally of confirmed cases.

“Monitoring data has shown that some asymptomatic people have caused second-generation transmission among their close contacts, and they have set off a small number of clusters of infections,” Chang Jile, head of the National Health Commission’s disease control bureau, said on Tuesday, as quoted by state-run newspaper China Daily.

Those with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 as well as their close contacts will be quarantined in centralized facilities for 14 days. The asymptomatic individuals won’t be released until they test negative for the virus twice, according to Chang.

More research is needed to understand the length of the contagion period of asymptomatic individuals as well as the strength and pathway of their transmission, according to China’s National Health Commission.

“Some experts believed that because asymptomatic people show no symptoms of coughing or sneezing, the chance of them spreading the virus is relatively small compared to confirmed patients,” the commission said in a statement Tuesday, noting how difficult it is to detect these cases and prevent them from spreading. “It is infeasible to make the discovery and isolation of asymptomatic cases as the dominating virus-control measure, so we will continue to focus on confirmed cases and their close contacts.”

Since the first cases emerged in the city of Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province back in December, the country has reported 81,554 confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide, as of Tuesday. It’s unclear whether that figure includes asymptomatic cases.

A total of 76,238 patients have recovered from the disease and have been released from hospitals, while another 3,312 patients have died. Seven new deaths were reported Tuesday, all but one in Hubei province, according to the National Health Commission.

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