Tue, Jan 28, 2020 - Page 1 News List

China extends holiday to buy time as virus spreads

AFP, WUHAN, China

People wear masks at a shopping mall in Bangkok yesterday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

China yesterday extended its biggest national holiday to buy time in the fight against a viral epidemic, and neighboring Mongolia closed its border, after the death toll spiked to 81, despite unprecedented quarantine measures.

In a sign of the mounting official concern, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) visited ground zero to oversee containment efforts in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people where the coronavirus emerged late last month.

The government has sealed off Wuhan and other cities in Hubei Province, effectively trapping tens of millions of people, including thousands of foreigners, in a bid to quarantine the virus that struck amid the Lunar New Year holiday.

Twenty-four new deaths were yesterday confirmed in Hubei and the southern island province of Hainan reported its first fatality, bringing the nationwide toll to 81, as confirmed infections swelled to more than 2,700.

The youngest infected patient was a nine-month-old baby being treated in Beijing.

Thousands more patients with flu-like symptoms were being monitored, suspected of contracting the pathogen.

Mongolia, which is heavily dependent on trade with China, closed the border with its huge neighbor to cars, and shut schools, universities and other “public events,” Mongolian Vice Prime Minister Enkhtuvshin Ulziisaikhan said on Sunday.

“Public events mean conferences, any public gatherings such as sports, entertainment or travel, and competitions,” he said, specifying that the school closures would last until March 2.

Authorities around China have already imposed aggressive curbs on transport during the usually high-traffic new year season to keep the virus out.

The central government extended the national holiday, initially due to end on Thursday, for three days to limit population flows as it battles the outbreak.

Some municipalities, such as the nation’s financial hub, Shanghai, went further, adding another full week off.

The nationwide measures threaten to put a dent on an economy that was already slowing down.

Beijing and Shanghai were among places mandating stringent checks and 14-day observation periods for people arriving from Hubei.

Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang (周先旺) on Sunday said that about 5 million people had left the stricken city during the new year travel rush, highlighting fears the virus could spread further.

With cases now confirmed in about a dozen countries as far away as France and the US, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus headed to Beijing for discussions with Chinese officials.

The WHO last week stopped short of declaring the outbreak a global emergency, which could have prompted international trade or travel restrictions.

The US, France and Japan were among countries looking to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, but days after plans were initially floated, no exodus had begun.

All of the fatalities have been in China, the majority in Hubei and involving elderly people or people already weakened by pre-existing health conditions, the government says.

There were 2,744 confirmed infections nationwide in China as of yesterday, up by 769 from the previous day. The number of suspected cases also doubled over 24 hours to nearly 6,000.

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