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AZ Boss Claims Coronavirus 'Very Contained', as China Locks Down Wuhan to Control Spread

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on January 20 that it’s “extremely crucial” to take every possible measure to combat a new coronavirus that has infected at least hundreds of people in the country. His remarks, cited by state broadcaster CCTV, came the same day that the country reported a sharp rise in the number of people infected by the novel form of viral pneumonia, including the first cases in the capital.

“The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan and other places must be taken seriously,” Xi said, according to CCTV. “Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.” 

"The source of the new type of coronavirus has not been found, we do not fully understand how the virus is transmitted, and changes in the virus still need to be closely monitored,” China’s National Health Commission said.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, where a new coronavirus originated, will halt outbound flights and trains and shut its public-transportation system, the Chinese government said, a dramatic escalation in the battle to contain a pneumonia outbreak that has killed at least 17 people.

The decision to lock down Wuhan, a major travel hub and a city of 11 million, comes as the country is entering one of its busiest travel periods, its Lunar New Year holiday. Hundreds of millions will travel across China and outside the country, increasing the risk of transmission for the virus.

In the meantime, however, the CEO of pharmaceutical giant AstraZenecat claimed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that coronavirus spreading in China appears to be contained for the time being.

Speaking to CNBC on January 22, Pascal Soriot said AstraZeneca had “plans for this kind of event” but, like competitor Merck, was waiting for guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) on how to respond to the outbreak.

It really looks like at this point it’s very contained,” Soriot told CNBC. “We have a very large presence in China — we’re the number one pharmaceutical company there, we employ 16,000 people — so as you would imagine it matters to us, we really care a lot and we’ll monitor this, but it really looks like it’s contained for the time being.”

Also speaking to CNBC in Davos on January 22, Christoph Franz, chairman of Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche, said the mortality rate for coronavirus was relatively low compared to other viruses.

“Every person who is passing away is a person who should have survived — that is a fact,” he said. “We have a particular attention on diseases which are breaking out in parts of the world where we do not have this kind of transparency,” Franz added. “We have seen this also with the Ebola crisis in some African countries.” He noted that when the disease burden of coronavirus was compared to a “very normal flu season in the United States,” a substantially higher proportion of people died of flu.

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