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722 total deaths: Anger, virus cases grow in China

TOPSHOT - People wearing facemasks as a preventative measure following a coronavirus outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, line up to purchase face masks from a makeshift stall after queueing for hours following a registration process during which they were given a pre-sales ticket, in Hong Kong on February 5, 2020. - The new coronavirus which appeared late December has claimed nearly 500 lives, infected more than 24,000 people in mainland China and spread to more than 20 countries. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

BEIJING — The number of confirmed cases of the new virus has risen again in China while fatalities increased to 722 on Saturday, 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 another 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 Saturday 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 American 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.

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