A major cruise line has taken the extraordinary step of banning citizens of China regardless of when they were last there, while there was sorrow and anger over the coronavirus death of a doctor from Wuhan who had been reprimanded for sounding an early warning about the disease.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd issued a statement on Friday local time saying: “Any guest or crewmen travelling from, to, or through mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau less than 15 days prior to their sailing will be unable to board any of our ships.”
But it did not stop there.
It also said, “Any guests holding a Chinese, Hong Kong or Macau passport, regardless of when they were there last, will not be allowed to board our ships.”
The death of Li Wenliang, 34, came as President Xi Jinping reassured the United States and the World Health Organisation (WHO) of transparency and maximum effort to combat the virus.
Beijing’s communist leadership has sealed off cities, cancelled flights and closed factories to limit an epidemic roiling the world’s second-biggest economy, with ripple effects felt by global markets and businesses dependent on Chinese supply lines.
The epicentre province of Hubei and its capital Wuhan are in lockdown, and Beijing resembles a ghost town.
Apple Inc, however, said it was working to reopen its China corporate offices and call centres next week, and was making preparations to reopen retail stores there.
After two days in which Hubei reported fewer new cases of coronavirus and deaths, spurring some optimism, there was an uptick on Friday local time.
The Hubei health commission website reported 82 new deaths and 2841 new cases in the province, taking the mainland China totals to more than 700 deaths and 34,887 infections.
Ophthalmologist Li was among eight people reprimanded by police in Wuhan, which has suffered the brunt of the outbreak since the virus emerged there, for spreading “illegal and false” information.
Li was made to sign a letter saying he had “severely disrupted social order” and was threatened with charges.
Social media users called him a hero and shared a selfie of him lying on a hospital bed wearing an oxygen respirator and holding up his Chinese identification card. One image showed the message “farewell Li Wenliang” etched into snow on a riverbank.
“Wuhan indeed owes Li Wenliang an apology,” said Hu Xilinx, editor of the government-backed Global Times tabloid.
Rights group Amnesty International called his death a “tragic reminder” of how China’s preoccupation with stability made it suppress vital information.
China had been accused of trying to cover up the 2003 SARS outbreak that killed almost 800 people worldwide.
There were signs that discussion of Li’s death was being censored. After briefly trending on Weibo, the topics “the Wuhan government owes doctor Li Wenliang an apology” and “we want free speech” yielded no search results.
The virus has spread around the world, with 320 cases now in 27 countries and regions outside mainland China.
It is too early to say that China's #coronavirus outbreak is peaking.
— UN Geneva (@UNGeneva) February 7, 2020
WHO emergency expert Mike Ryan said reports of Asians being shunned in the West over a perceived connection to coronavirus was “utterly and completely unacceptable and it needs to stop.”
— Derick Waller (@wallerABC7) February 7, 2020
China has complained bitterly about bans and measures that go against WHO recommendations and accused governments and companies that take such actions of fear mongering.
Two deaths have been reported outside mainland China, in Hong Kong and the Philippines, but how deadly and contagious the virus is remains unclear, prompting countries to quarantine hundreds of people and cut travel links with China.
Four sick passengers aboard a Royal Caribbean ship that arrived off New Jersey in the United States were sent to a hospital out of “an abundance of caution,” the local mayor said.
There were 41 new cases among about 3700 people quarantined in a cruise ship off Japan, taking the total to 61, while Chinese-ruled Hong Kong quarantined for a third day a cruise ship with 3600 on board.
“A cruise ship is a very particular environment in which you can have higher levels of transmission even with a virus that isn’t very efficient at transmission,” WHO’s Ryan told a news conference in Geneva.
The head of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice, Li Fuying, told reporters that people deliberately concealing contacts or refusing isolation could be punished with death.