BEIJING — France confirmed three cases of coronavirus Friday, marking the first confirmed diagnoses in Europe, as China expanded its efforts to control its outbreak and announced 15 new deaths. Australia also confirmed its first case of coronavirus, and a second case was confirmed in the United States.

Travel bans were extended in central China to put tens of millions of people effectively on local lockdowns. In Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, workers are racing to build a 1,000-bed hospital to treat victims of the disease.

Authorities around China, including in the capital, Beijing, have canceled the temple fairs and festivals that accompany the Spring Festival to avoid having large public gatherings where the airborne virus could spread.

● There are at least 1,287 confirmed cases of infection, and at least 41 people have died. A total of 8,420 people are reported to be under observation.

● A young, previously healthy man died in Wuhan, raising concerns about the deadliness of the virus. Until now, the vast majority of victims have been older than 60 with preexisting conditions.

● Infections have been confirmed in Australia, France, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan and the United States.

● Authorities are enforcing a lockdown across large parts of the province of Hubei, affecting more than 35 million people, but the precise number remains unclear.

● The Chinese medical system has clearly struggled to cope with the outbreak, with reports of crowded hospitals, stressed doctors and dwindling supplies.

1:40 a.m.
Link copied

Australia confirms first case of coronavirus

WASHINGTON — Australian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said Saturday that a Chinese national in Melbourne had a confirmed case of coronavirus, according to local news reports. The man, who is in his 50s, returned from Wuhan on Sunday and now is isolated at a hospital in stable condition.

Mikakos said that passengers on the man’s China Southern Airlines flight would be alerted as a precaution. The man did not exhibit symptoms on the flight, Mikakos said, and airport screening would not have detected the virus.

Coronavirus now has been confirmed on four continents: Asia, North America, Europe and Australia.

11:40 p.m.
Link copied

Third case of coronavirus confirmed in France

WASHINGTON — The French health ministry announced that a third case of coronavirus has been confirmed in that country, according to the state-owned television network France 24. The new patient is located in Paris, as was one of the previously announced patients. The other patient is in the southwestern city of Bordeaux.

The new patient is a parent of one of the other people diagnosed, the Associated Press reported. All three patients recently had traveled to China.

11:30 p.m.
Link copied

China may be underreporting cases and deaths, health experts say

WASHINGTON — As new cases of coronavirus surge, health experts inside and outside the U.S. government say they believe the Chinese government is significantly underreporting the number of cases and deaths in that country.

By the end of Friday, local time, China said it had 1,010 cases and a total of 41 deaths. Many more cases are not being reported, experts believe, based on reports from nongovernment sources in China.

“We heard it was over 1,000 when they were only reporting a couple hundred cases,” said one HHS official who was not authorized to discuss internal conversations and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The official declined to say what the U.S. government estimate is for the true case count.

Medical face masks are often used during flu season or a virus outbreak. Demand for masks has skyrocketed amid the coronavirus outbreak. (The Washington Post)

Some experts have said the discrepancy could stem from the initial focus on the most severely ill patients and could be the result of Chinese officials catching up with all the sick people, rather than a deliberate underestimate.

A policy report sent to clients by financial-services firm Raymond James estimated the number of cases to be “at least 10 times the number reported publicly.” The report author, Chris Meekins, a former HHS official, said the analysis is based on information from academic researchers and consultants working with Chinese hospitals.

“Our checks reveal that lines stretch outside of urban and rural hospitals and triage facilities have been set up,” Meekins wrote.

10:40 p.m.
Link copied

15 new deaths announced in Hubei province, China

The Washington Post spoke to two people inside Wuhan, China, during a lockdown, as authorities scrambled to contain a deadly coronavirus outbreak. (The Washington Post)

WASHINGTON — Hubei province announced 15 additional deaths in Wuhan attributable to the virus. There were also 180 new cases across the province. All patients were being kept in isolation, and people they had come into close contact with were being monitored.

All of the most recent people who died were at least 55 years old. As with the previous deaths, most of the victims had a history of serious illnesses.

The new information brought the total number of deaths from coronavirus to 41. More than 1,000 cases have been confirmed.

10:30 p.m.
Link copied

Face masks are unnecessary in the U.S., experts say

WASHINGTON — Infectious disease experts said that there’s little need to wear face masks in the United States, where just two cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and the patients are in stable condition in hospitals.

Given the low threat level, covering one’s face and nose isn’t necessary when outside or in a place with good ventilation, said Colleen Kraft, associate chief medical officer for Emory University Hospital, who helped treat the first U.S. Ebola cases in 2014.

Kraft said that people in the United States should instead be taking the same precautions they would to avoid contracting the flu, such as being vigilant about washing hands regularly and cautious about touching their faces and possibly infected surfaces.

In high-risk areas like Wuhan, wearing them pays off, experts said. There has been a run on masks in China, where the price is rising.

Read more here.

9:40 p.m.
Link copied

President Trump thanks China for its efforts to contain the virus

WASHINGTON — Trump weighed in Friday afternoon as impeachment hearings wore on in the Senate, commending Chinese President Xi Jinping in a tweet for his government’s efforts to contain the virus.

“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!” Trump wrote.

Trump’s tweet came hours after senators were briefed on the outbreak by top health officials. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) called for the U.S. to declare a public health emergency shortly after the briefing.

8:30 p.m.
Link copied

In Wuhan’s virus wards, plenty of stress but shortages of everything else

BEIJING — As hospitals around the coronavirus ground zero of Wuhan struggle to deal with the outbreak, accounts are emerging of shortages of just about everything. There are not enough hospitals and not enough beds, not enough doctors and not enough nurses, not enough rubber gloves and not enough face masks.

There’s the infectious disease specialist who, having treated bird flu and influenza A and tuberculosis over the years, was felled during the coronavirus outbreak. An exhausted Jiang Jijun died of a heart attack Thursday while tending patients.

There’s the seven-months pregnant nurse who still went to work to treat those with coronavirus, only to be infected with it herself. When her 70-year-old mother got it, too, the nurse had to complain on social media to attract the attention needed to get her admitted.

There are the health-care workers wearing adult diapers because they don’t have time to go to the bathroom. Then there are those with the ever-whiter hands, bleached by all the disinfectant.

Many people are at breaking point in the city at the center of an expanding quarantine zone in central China.

“I don’t want do this job any more. Just fire me! Kick me out, send me back home,” a doctor at Wuhan No. 5 Hospital yelled into the phone, frustration and exhaustion exploding out of him.

“Don’t I want to go home to celebrate the new year?” he screamed in his Wuhan accent, presumably at his boss, that he’d done four back-to-back shifts as China made plans for the Lunar New Year holiday, which began Friday. “Don’t we want to live, too?”

A video of the unidentified doctor, filmed by a patient, was widely shared on Weibo, the microblogging site, this week but could not be independently verified by The Washington Post. Several people in Wuhan, however, vouched for its authenticity and there were many others like it that emerged from the quarantined city.

Together, they provide a window into the extreme levels of stress in the overburdened hospitals of Wuhan as they battle a new pneumonia-like coronavirus.

7:50 p.m.
Link copied

France confirms two cases of coronavirus, marking the first diagnoses in Europe

WASHINGTON — French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn told reporters Friday that two cases of coronavirus had been diagnosed in France, one case in the southwestern city of Bordeaux and another in Paris. Both patients were recently in China, she said, adding she suspects more cases will emerge.

Those diagnoses mark the first known cases of the virus in Europe, amid concerns that people may be contagious with the virus even before they exhibit any symptoms.

The Associated Press reported that Buzyn said she believes the virus was detected in France before any other European country in part because it has already developed a rapid test for patients exhibiting symptoms of the virus.

7:30 p.m.
Link copied

How public health officials are fighting coronavirus panic

WASHINGTON — Panic over the new coronavirus has spread along with the disease. But reactions based on misinformation or partial information can make matters worse, underscoring the need for governments to be open from the start, say public health experts.

“It is very critical that [governments] are and appear to be honest and transparent with people,” said Vish Viswanath, a professor of health communication at Harvard University’s school of public health.

Such transparency builds trust among the public and curtails unwarranted, unproductive fear, experts say.

Viswanath described the new coronavirus as “an emerging infectious disease crisis” because its source and exactly how it spreads remain uncertain, as well as other unknowns.

“In such a crisis, when you have incomplete information, the question is how do you communicate risk,” he said. “You have to just go out and say this is what we know so far and this is what we don’t know.”

This works best, he said, when a government has one or two designated spokespeople to provide the public with continuous, credible information about what’s fact, fiction or still an open question.

Without clear updates from official sources, misinformation and rumors spread even more easily on social media.

Such crises are best managed by “public health officials working through community leaders in a culturally appropriate way,” Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College focused on misperceptions about politics and health care, told The Post.

In health emergencies, especially in places where trust in the government is low, “it becomes especially important to marshal trusted sources and community leaders to help reinforce the messages that are backed by science,” he said.

7:00 p.m.
Link copied

Republican senator calls on Trump to declare coronavirus a public health emergency

WASHINGTON — Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) called on President Trump on Friday to declare the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency after senators received a briefing from top health officials and a second case of the virus was confirmed in the United States.

“We have to get serious about the threat of coronavirus coming from China. I don’t trust Communist China to coordinate in a transparent and efficient manner,” Scott said in a statement. “I’m calling on the administration to declare a national public health emergency to stop the coronavirus from spreading within the United States.”

6:30 p.m.
Link copied

After case in Taiwan, officials say ‘China’s political interference’ could affect their response

WASHINGTON — Taiwan warned Friday that China’s influence on the world stage could block the island from participating in the response to the coronavirus.

“Due to China’s political interference, Taiwan is not able to attend the World Health Assembly, WHO’s annual meeting, since President Tsai took office in 2016,” Longman Chung, a representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO), wrote in an email to reporters. He referred to the World Health Organization and newly reelected Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Although the United States does not maintain formal diplomatic relations with the Taiwanese government, TECRO represents Taiwan unofficially in Washington.

Taiwan confirmed its first case of the virus on Tuesday. The following day, Tsai convened a high-level meeting to discuss the outbreak and called on the WHO to not exclude her country.

“Taiwan has been on the front line of fighting previous disease outbreak in the region from SARS to swine flu,” Chung wrote in the email.

6:00 p.m.
Link copied

Senators attend health briefing, call on China to remain transparent

WASHINGTON — About two dozen senators attended a special briefing with top health officials Friday to hear the latest developments on the coronavirus outbreak.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he “wouldn’t be surprised if there are additional cases.” But he said public health authorities acted quickly in Illinois after a case emerged there. They “identified, isolated and did contact tracing on the people with whom that person came into contact,” he said. “That’s how you get your handle on an outbreak.”

After the meeting, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), James E. Risch (R-Idaho) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) released a bipartisan statement.

“We are monitoring the outbreak of a novel coronavirus closely and are in close communication with United States government agencies on actions and precautions needed to prevent further spread of this virus,” the senators said.

They added that the safety of U.S. citizens in the United States, China and other countries where cases have emerged is their “first priority.”

“The Chinese government has taken steps to share information with international health experts, and we encourage their cooperation and transparency as this situation unfolds,” they said. “We will continue to work closely with administration officials to ensure the United States is prepared to respond.”

5:30 p.m.
Link copied

Wuhan company races to build 1,000 bedside monitors in less than a week

WASHINGTON — It’s a tall order: construct and equip a 1,000-bed hospital in less than a week, even as existing Chinese hospitals are experiencing shortages of supplies.

As workers scramble to finish the new facility in about a week, travel bans in Wuhan and other areas could further complicate the delivery of crucial equipment.

Cai, who lives in Wuhan, hopes his company can lend a hand.

He is the business manager of a Wuhan-based medical supply company, and he said in a phone interview with The Washington Post that he plans to work through the holiday in China to help manufacture and deliver 1,000 bedside monitors to the local government for the new hospital.

“We have the material; we need to gather workers to produce [the monitors] in a short time,” Cai said, asking that he be identified by only his family name. “We will consider first safety, then, second, production.”

Will he be able to pull it off in a matter of a week? “We will see,” Cai said.

4:55 p.m.
Link copied

Wuhan mayor, provincial leaders criticized for not taking the outbreak seriously

BEIJING — Senior Chinese Communist Party officials in Wuhan have come under heavy criticism for their slow response to the outbreak.

The mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang, allowed a huge potluck banquet to go ahead in the city on Sunday, over a weekend when the number of confirmed cases of infection shot up dramatically. The city had arranged a Lunar New Year meal featuring 14,000 dishes for more than 40,000 people, an event it hoped to get listed in Guinness World Records.

“It is only with hindsight that everyone can see how dangerous the virus is,” he said, trying to defend his actions in an interview with state-run CCTV. “If we’d known from the outset that the situation would be so serious, of course we would have tried to find effective ways to control and prevent the outbreak.”

Zhou only enraged people further.

Residents were also astonished to see photos and video of the two top officials in Hubei province — the Communist Party secretary and the governor — at a dance performance in Wuhan to celebrate the arrival of the Spring Festival holiday. They were sharply criticized for enjoying themselves instead of working on the response to the health crisis.

All mention of the performance and the officials’ attendance was scrubbed from the Chinese Internet.