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Coronavirus: More than 2 000 now infected; 56 dead in China

Published Jan 26, 2020

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Shanghai - More than 2,000 people globally

have been infected with a new coronavirus, the vast majority of

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them in China, where 56 people have died from the disease,

according to figures released on Sunday.

President Xi Jinping said during a politburo meeting on

Saturday that China was facing a "grave situation", as

health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a

pandemic.

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The virus, believed to have originated late last year in a

seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan that was

illegally selling wildlife, has spread to Chinese cities

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including Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the United States,

Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Australia, France and Canada.

The World Health Organisation this week stopped short of

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calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health

experts question whether China can continue to contain the

epidemic.

On Sunday, China confirmed 1,975 cases of patients infected

with the new coronavirus as of Jan. 25, while the death toll

from the virus has risen to 56, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

The outbreak has prompted widening curbs on movements within

China, with Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on virtual lockdown,

with transports links all-but severed except for emergency

vehicles.

The US State Department said on Sunday it will relocate

personnel at its Wuhan consulate to the United States and will

offer a limited number of seats to private U.S. citizens on a

January 28 flight to San Francisco.

Health authorities in Beijing urged people not to shake

hands but instead salute using a traditional cupped-hand

gesture. The advice was sent in a text message that went out to

mobile phone users in the city on Sunday morning.

On Saturday, Canada declared the first "presumptive"

confirmed case of the virus in a resident who had returned from

Wuhan. The patient, a male in his 50s, arrived in Toronto on

Jan. 22 and was hospitalised the next day after developing

symptoms of respiratory illness, officials said.

The outbreak has overshadowed the start of the Lunar New

Year, which is typically a festive time of year, with public

events cancelled and many tourist sites shut. Many people on

social media have been calling for the week-long holiday to be

extended to help prevent further spread of the virus.

A man wears a face mask as he rides a nearly empty subway train near the Shanghai Disney Resort, which announced that it will be closed indefinitely. Picture: Fu Ting/AP

Transportation curbs continued to widen, with the northern

city of Tianjin to shut all inter-province shuttle buses from

January 27, the official People's Daily reported on Sunday. It will

halt all group tours, both at home and abroad, from Monday.

On Saturday, Hong Kong declared a virus emergency, scrapped

celebrations and restricted links to mainland China, while

Australia confirmed its first four cases, Malaysia confirmed

four and France reported Europe's first cases on Friday.

The United States was arranging a charter flight on Sunday

to bring its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan, the central

Chinese city at the epicentre of the outbreak, the Wall Street

Journal reported.

In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city's leader

Carrie Lam said flights and high speed rail trips between the

city and Wuhan will be halted. Schools in Hong Kong that are

currently on Lunar New Year holidays will remain closed until

Feb. 17.

Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park closed on Sunday "out of

consideration for the health and safety of our guests and cast

members".

"We are in close contact with health authorities and the

government about the situation and will announce a reopening

date once they determine it is advisable," the park said in a

statement.

Shanghai Disneyland, which expected 100,000 visitors daily

through the Lunar New Year holidays, has already closed.

Many cinemas across China are also closed with major film

premieres postponed, slashing revenues.

According to data from Chinese movie-ticketing company

Maoyan, owned by China’s on-demand service giant

Meituan Dianping, China's cinemas earned 1.81 million

yuan from movie tickets on January 25, down more than 99% from

1.46 billion yuan on the Lunar New Year Day in 2019.

The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because

there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how

dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can

cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.

There are fears transmission could accelerate as hundreds of

millions of Chinese travel during the holiday, although many

have cancelled their plans and airlines and railways in China

are providing full refunds for tickets.

Airports around the world have stepped up screening of

passengers from China, although some health officials and

experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings.

In an illustration of how such efforts could miss cases,

doctors at a Paris hospital said two of the three Chinese

nationals in France who have been diagnosed with the virus had

arrived in the country without showing any symptoms.

A report by infectious disease specialists at Imperial

College, London on Saturday said the epidemic "represents a

clear and ongoing global health threat," adding: "It is

uncertain at the current time whether it is possible to contain

the continuing epidemic within China."

Wuhan is building two new hospitals with a combined 2,300

beds to treat patients.

Reuters

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