More businesses reopen in China, but many people stay home

Employees wearing protective face masks at a jewellery shop in Hong Kong, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. China is reporting a rise in new virus cases, denting optimism that disease control measures which isolated major cities might be working. China reported a rise in new virus cases Monday, possibly denting optimism that disease control measures including isolating major cities might be working, while Japan reported dozens of new cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship.

While he’d shown no symptoms of the coronavirus in China or since he’s been back in Rome, a local man who works overseas has decided to place himself under a voluntary quarantine.

Spencer Musik said that — out of an abundance of caution to his family — he decided to continue at a local hotel the self-imposed quarantine he started for 10 days while in Beijing.

Musik is the managing editor of Xinhua News Agency sports desk in Beijing, which is a little over 700 miles away from Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak. That’s the equivalent of the distance from Rome to Kansas City, Missouri.

“I was planning on coming home anyways,” he said, noting that he had not been evacuated from China because of the outbreak. When he left, he said, there were just 191 cases of the virus in Beijing, which has a population of 21.54 million.

So far, Musik said, his quarantine hasn’t been fun.

“Ten days is a long time,” he said, adding that he mostly watches the traffic on the street outside of his hotel. “People in Rome are really bad drivers. I miss China already and this really sucks.”

The most sobering part, Musik said, is his own understanding of public health outbreaks.

“These kinds of public health challenges can happen anywhere,” he said. “There are areas where China can improve with public sanitation, but those questions aren’t just for China.”

Musik plans to end his self-imposed quarantine on Tuesday.

On the industrial side of things, Fred Taylor, president and CEO of OTR Wheel Engineering in Rome, said Monday that his company has had to ground all of its people in China and that facilities there won’t be able to reopen for at least another 10 days.

The OTR website shows a plant in Jiangsu, which is approximately 460 miles east of Wuhan.

According to the Associated Press, more offices and stores in Beijing and other parts of China reopened Monday after the Lunar New Year break was extended to discourage travel and contain the new coronavirus, but many workers and shoppers appeared to stay home.

Public health authorities are watching closely to see whether the return to business worsens the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 40,000 people globally and killed over 900, with the vast majority of cases in China.

Even before the slow and cautious reopening, China on Monday reported a rise in new cases, dimming optimism that the near-quarantine of some 60 million people and other disease-control measures might be working.

Britain, meanwhile, declared the virus a “serious and imminent threat to public health” and said it would forcibly detain infected people if necessary. France tested 45 children and their parents after five British tourists contracted the virus at a ski resort.

The director-general of the World Health Organization said that the agency is still unable to predict where the outbreak is heading but that he believes there is still an opportunity to contain it.

“In recent days, we have seen some concerning instances of onward transmission from people with no travel history to China, like the cases reported in France yesterday and the U.K. today,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The detection of the small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire, but for now, it’s only a spark.”

The Associated Press and Rome News-Tribune Associate Editor Doug Walker contributed to this report.

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