The Latest: WHO to meet on promising drugs for new virus

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BEIJING (AP) — The Latest on a virus outbreak that began in China (all times local):

11:45 p.m.

The World Health Organization is convening a research conference next week to identify promising drug and vaccine candidates to be fast-tracked for development against the new virus that emerged from China.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Thursday the U.N. health agency will be inviting scientists to identify research priorities and coordinate the effort to find effective drugs and vaccines.

The meeting will be held Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva and will include some “virtual” attendees. WHO said it would include Chinese scientists but didn't say if the “virtual” attendees were those who could not travel due to bans, quarantines or other reasons.

“To put it bluntly, we’re shadow boxing,” Tedros said, explaining there are many unknowns about the virus, including its transmissibility and severity. “We need to bring this shadow out into the light so that we can attack it properly,” he said.

Tedros compared the effort to the accelerated efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics during the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Still, he warned that finding any effective drugs and vaccines for the new virus would take significant time.


10:30 p.m.

Singapore says it is tracing the contacts of man who tested positive for a new virus but had no known connection to previous cases or travel to China.

The health ministry said Thursday it was working to identify the source of infection of the 41-year-old man.

The ministry also confirmed an infection in a 27-year-old man who attended a business conference in the city-state last month. The conference was attended by people from China, where the virus has spread to thousands of people.

A Malaysian man and two South Koreans who attended the conference were previously confirmed to have the virus.

Much about how the virus spreads is unknown, but the outbreak could worsen significantly if the virus can be spread easily.

The new infections reported Thursday raise Singapore's total to 30 cases.


10 p.m.

China's official media say the new virus has been confirmed in a baby just 36 hours after its birth.

The baby born Sunday in Wuhan is China's youngest case of the illness. Only a handful of children have come down with the new coronavirus, which has been most severe in older people.

Zeng Lingkong, director of neonatal diseases at Wuhan Children’s Hospital, said the mother had tested positive before birth and the baby was separated from her immediately after its birth.

Zeng said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV that other mothers gave birth to babies who tested negative, so it's still unclear if the virus can be transmitted in the womb.

Zeng said the possibility “needs further study.”


8 p.m.

Hong Kong authorities say more than 5,000 people may have been exposed to a virus during previous voyages on a cruise ship now in quarantine.

Center for Health Protection official Chuang Shuk-kwan said Thursday that eight people tested positive for the new coronavirus after they traveled on the World Dream cruise from Jan. 19-24.

The ship sailed four voyages after that date. It was placed in quarantine Monday with its 3,600 passengers and crew being screened for the virus.

Chuang said the three other cruises involved more than 5,000 passengers who had returned to Hong Kong.

Cheung said 206 were Hong Kong residents on the same trip as the eight mainland Chinese who were infected.

But she urged anyone who had joined World Dream cruises since then to contact health officials immediately.


4:20 p.m.

The human rights group Amnesty International has urged governments to avoid violating human rights as they strive to contain and end the outbreak of a virus centered in China that has killed more than 560 people.

The group cautioned against heightened use of censorship, arbitrary detentions and other restrictions, and urged authorities to ensure that all people affected have access to health care.

The statement said that activists trying to spread information about the virus through social media and other means have been harassed or questioned. It said such moves to quash the flow of information can be “disastrously counter-productive."

One of the biggest risks involves discrimination and xenophobia arising from fears of contagion, both inside and outside China. Amnesty's statement noted that people have been rejected from hotels, kept prisoners in their homes and suffered having their personal information leaked online.

Amnesty's regional director, Nicholas Bequelin, said “The Chinese government should take measures to protect people from discrimination, while governments around the world should take a zero-tolerance approach to the racist targeting of people of Chinese and Asian origin."


2 p.m.

A Hong Kong medical union has warned that its 20,000 members could resign en masse if the semi-autonomous territory's Hospital Authority refuses to hold a dialogue with them over their demands amid an ongoing strike.

Thousands of union members have been on strike since Monday demanding that Hong Kong authorities completely close the border with mainland China to stem the spread of the new coronavirus and ensure a safe working environment including sufficient protective gear for staff.

Hong Kong is struggling to curb the spread of the virus after reporting 21 cases, including local transmission. The strike has hurt emergency and medical services but the government has refused to completely seal the border.

Two border checkpoints with China remain open. The government said Wednesday that it will quarantine all arrivals from China for two weeks starting on Saturday, a move the medical union chief Winnie Yu says will only further burden the city's medical system.

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