As China scrambles to contain coronavirus, Xi calls situation grave

James Marshall
March 24, 2020

Health workers check drivers and passengers' body temperature in effort to contain novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan and surrounding areas of China People arriving at the worldwide terminal at Toronto's Pearson Airport wear masks following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) In this Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, photo, travelers wearing face masks walk with their luggage at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in southern China's Hubei province.

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. Wild and often poached animals packed together in Chinese markets are blamed as incubators for viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.

Early Sunday, Chinese officials announced that the death toll from the virus, which is believed to have jumped from animals to humans at a seafood and wildlife market, has increased to 56 people, nearly all in Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital.

Health authorities in Beijing urged people not to shake hands but instead salute using a traditional cupped-hand gesture.

That could make it easier to develop vaccines against the virus, something the center is already working on.

WeChat, China's ubiquitous messaging app, warned that it could ban accounts spreading rumours.

A leading infectious disease specialist treating two of the patients said the illness appears less serious than comparable previous outbreaks, such as the SARS epidemic that resulted in more than 800 deaths in 2003. It said that of those infected, 324 were in critical condition.

The Shanghai government said on Friday that Shanghai Disneyland will be closed from Saturday.

Health workers stressed citizens should follow strict personal hygiene rules whether they are in the country or traveling overseas, especially since large numbers of Chinese tourists are visiting South Korea during the holiday period. The city has said the first is expected to be completed February 3.

Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired a meeting with top officials of the ruling Communist Party on the prevention and control of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, China's state media reported Saturday.

In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city's leader Carrie Lam said on Saturday that flights and high speed rail trips between the city and Wuhan will be halted. Schools in Hong Kong that are now on Lunar New Year holidays will remain closed until Feb 17.

A second person in Los Angeles County, who also had traveled to Wuhan, has been confirmed with coronavirus, the Los Angeles Times reported. 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.

Infections from the virus have now been found on four continents, including a few cases in Australia, France and the US, among travelers who had recently been in China. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases. "It is expected that more cases will be exported to other countries, and that further transmission may occur", the World Health Organization said Thursday. Earlier on Sunday, the Chinese Global Times newspaper said that the death toll stood at 54.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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