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17.02.2020 Europe

Chinese army takes over drive to find coronavirus cure

By Jan van der Made - RFI
LISTEN FEB 17, 2020

China's Xinhua News Agency reported that the yearly session of the National People's Congress (NPC) may be postponed. No reasons were given, but it is likely that the delay is caused by the Covid-19 virus (Coronavirus). Meanwhile, the PLA has sent in 1200 more medical personnel to deal with the epidemic.

The yearly session of the NPC is Beijing's showcase for democratic decision making.

Some 3000 delegates from all over China, representing minorities and a wide range of professions sit through ten days of meetings and speeches and eventually vote on proposed draft laws.

The laws are, as a rule, almost unanimously adopted as they are already approved, behind closed doors, by China's Communist Party, leading critics to brand the NPC a “rubber stamp” parliament.

But the symbolic value of postponing indicate that President Xi Jinping places health higher than politics.

According to Xinhua, the NPC Standing Committee, its leading body, will decide on February 24 if the session will be postponed.

Army takes over
Meanwhile, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has send a second batch of 1200 military doctors and nurses down to the epidemic's epicenter Wuhan.

The PLA Daily reported that the army started sending army medics starting on February 13, when it sent 1400 people, making a total of 2600.

Crucial to the army involvement in fighting the virus is Lieutenant General Chen Wei, a researcher at the Military Medical Research Institute of the Academy of Military Sciences.

According to an interview she gave with the Science and Technology Daily, she went down to Wuhan to join the fight at the end of January.

Chen, is credited for working on vaccines against the 2003 Sars virus and the 2015 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

She believes finding a vaccine could happen “within 12 weeks,” on par with US predictions.

Many cured
According to figures produced daily by China's National Health Commission, there was a total of 70,548 cases on February 16, with 1,770 confirmed deaths, while in all 10,844 patients “were released from hospitals after being cured.”

Figures jumped last week after authorities changed counting methods.

Abroad, the first death outside Asia was registered in the Bichat hospital in Paris, France, an 80-old male tourist from Wuhan, who was travelling with his daughter (50).

The largest concentration of infected people outside China is a cluster of 454 people aboard the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, docked in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo.

The Japanese Health Ministry says it has tested 1,723 out of 3,700 people on the ship. 340 Americans were evacuated with two charter flights and were flown to military bases in the US. 14 of them tested positive for the virus.

Masked robbers
In Hong Kong, fear of infection caused many to raid supermarkets, and within days Hong Kong's supply of toilet paper was depleted in many shops. In one case, masked robbers armed with knives stole 600 rolls of toilet paper worth 1600 HK$ (190 €), but were later arrested by police.

Cleaning tissues and kitchen rolls also sold out quickly and face masks are often sold out, as are rice. some tinned meats, bleach and other cleaning products. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post also reported that there was a run on condoms in the city.

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