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

Samara Heisz/iStock(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:

7:18 a.m.: US Surgeon General says extended social distancing guidelines may not be enough

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams acknowledged Wednesday that the additional 30 days of nationwide social distancing guidelines may not be enough time for some states and cities to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, “depending on where they are on the curve.”

“We’re looking at this next 30 days as an opportunity for the entire country to really understand if we do the right things, then we can flatten our curve in our own different areas and actually get to the other side,” Adams told ABC News in an interview on Good Morning America.

“The most important thing to know is that if you are aggressive about mitigation, you can get through to the other side and usually in about three weeks or so to hit your peak and start to see cases come down,” he added. “I feel confident that we can get through to the other side if we all cooperate and do our part together.”

Adams said they’ve asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “take another look” at whether having more people wear masks will help prevent transmission of COVID-19. But he emphasized that “the most important thing right now to do is for people to stay at home.”

“Initially, the CDC, the World Health Organization and my office recommended against the general public wearing masks based on the best available science at the time, in terms of whether or not it prevented the wearer from catching coronavirus,” he said. “Now, we’ve learned about this disease — and we’ve always said, we’re going to learn more, we’re going to adjust — and we’ve learned that there is a fair amount of asymptomatic spread.”

Adams noted that members of the general public do not need to wear N95 masks.

“If you take one of those N95 masks, you may be taking it out of the hands of a health care worker who desperately needs it to care for patients,” he added.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a press briefing Tuesday that both CDC and White House officials are having a “very active discussion” about whether to recommend the broad use of masks in the United States.

6:35 a.m.: Congo’s former president dies from COVID-19

The former president of the Republic of Congo, Jacques Joaquim Yhombi-Opango, has died in Paris from complications related to the novel coronavirus, officials said Wednesday. He was 81.

Yhombi-Opango’s family reportedly said he had been ill before contracting the virus.

Yhombi-Opango was an army officer who rose to power as Congo-Brazzaville’s head of state in 1977, following the assassination of the previous president. He was ousted in 1979 by the country’s current leader, Denis Sassou Nguesso.

The former president later spent several years in prison after being accused of taking part in a plot to overthrow Sassou Nguesso.

Yhombi-Opango served as prime minister between 1994 and 1996 during Pascal Lissouba’s presidency. And when the country spiraled into civil war in 1997, Yhombi-Opango fled into exile in France.

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.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.