Some 56 million people are now affected by transport bans around the epicenter of China’s virus outbreak as five more cities announced travel restrictions on Saturday to contain the disease, which has now killed 41 people.
At the same time, authorities said the number of infected cases had soared to nearly 1,300.
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The restriction rules include closing public transport links and access to highways in the cities, local authorities said.
A total of 18 cities now have some sort of travel restrictions in central Hubei province.
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The 15 new deaths all took place in Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the deadly respiratory contagion first emerged, the Hubei Health Commission said.
At least 444 new cases of the virus have been found, raising the total number to 1,287, the National Health Commission said in a separate statement.
The disease has spread to 30 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.
Wuhan and 13 other cities in Hubei have been locked down in an unprecedented quarantine effort aimed at containing the deadly respiratory contagion, which has spread to several other countries.
Hong Kong on Saturday declared the new coronavirus outbreak as an "emergency"–the city's highest warning tieróas authorities ramped up measures to reduce the risk of further infections. Of the five people who have tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong so far, four arrived via a newly built high-speed train terminal which connects with the mainland.
The Hubei Health Commission also reported 180 new cases overall in the province, 77 of them in Wuhan but the bulk of the rest spread out across the locked-down smaller cities.
There are now 729 cases in Hubei alone.
Several of those cities were reporting their first cases of the pathogen—2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)—the commission said.
The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
It also has struck at possibly the worst time for China, when hundreds of millions of people are traveling across the country or overseas to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s most important festival.
Meanwhile, China has ordered nationwide measures to identify and immediately isolate suspected cases of a deadly virus on trains, airplanes and buses, as the death toll and number of patients has skyrocketed.
Inspection stations will be set up and passengers with suspected pneumonia must be “immediately transported” to a medical center, the National Health Commission said in a statement.
The isolation of suspected cases must be followed by disinfection of the train, plane or bus.
The statement said “all departments of transportation” must “strictly” introduce prevention and control measures including screening measures in airports, railway stations, bus stations and ports.
The measures apply across all transportation routes as well as at customs and border inspections.
Staff serving passengers must all wear masks, the NHC said.
The travel authority must also provide details about those in close contact with the suspected infection case, such as those sitting in the same carriage.
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The order applies across all provinces and regions.
All areas should formulate “emergency response plans” to the outbreak including training medical staff.
The announcement came as the death toll jumped to 41 and the number of cases reached almost 1,300.
In Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, the Chinese army deployed 450 medical specialists to overwhelmed hospitals.
Datelines on the SARS-like virus that has claimed 41 lives since emerging in Wuhan and spread round the world, with the places confirming cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus:
As of Saturday, almost 1,300 people have been infected across China, the bulk of them in and around Wuhan.
Nearly all of those who died were in the Wuhan region, but officials have confirmed two deaths elsewhere.
The city of Macau, a gambling hub hugely popular with mainland tourists, has confirmed two cases.
In Hong Kong, five people are known to have the disease. Three of those cases were confirmed in the 24 hours to Saturday morning.
There are three known cases of the coronavirus in France, the first European country to be affected by the outbreak.
One person is sick in Bordeaux and another is ill in Paris. A third person, who is a close relative of one of the other two, has also been confirmed to have the virus.
All three had recently traveled to China and had now been placed in isolation.
Japan’s health authorities confirmed a second case on Friday. Local media said the patient was a man in his 40s who was originally from Wuhan and on a trip to Japan.
The country’s first case was reported by the health ministry last week: A man who had visited Wuhan and was hospitalized on Jan. 10, four days after his return to Japan.
Australia on Saturday confirmed its first case of the virus, a man who arrived in Melbourne from China a week ago.
Authorities said they were contacting people who had traveled on the same plane from China and offering advice.
Malaysia confirmed its first three cases on Saturday. All are Chinese nationals on holiday from Wuhan who arrived in the country from Singapore two days earlier.
A 66-year-old woman and two boys, aged two and 11, are in a stable condition and are being kept in an isolation ward at a public hospital, Malaysia’s health minister said.
Nepal said a 32-year-old man arriving from Wuhan had the deadly disease.
The patient, who was initially quarantined, recovered and was discharged. The government said that surveillance has been increased at the airport “and suspicious patients entering Nepal are being monitored.”
Singapore has announced at least three cases—a 66-year-old man and his 37-year-old son, who arrived in Singapore on Monday from Wuhan, and a 52-year-old Wuhan woman, who arrived in the city-state on Tuesday.
South Korea confirmed its second case of the virus on Friday.
The health ministry said a South Korean man in his 50s started experiencing symptoms while working in Wuhan on Jan. 10. He was tested after his return earlier this week, and the virus was confirmed.
The country reported its first case on January 20—a 35-year-old woman who flew in from Wuhan.
Both remain in treatment and are in stable conditions.
Taiwan has uncovered three cases so far. It has since advised against travel to Wuhan and Hubei province and on Friday said any arrivals from Wuhan would be rejected by immigration.
All arrivals from the rest of China —including Hong Kong and Macau —must fill out health declaration forms on arrival.
It has also banned the export of face masks for a month to ensure domestic supplies.
Thailand has detected five cases so far—four Chinese nationals from Wuhan and a 73-year-old Thai woman who came back from the Chinese city this month.
Two of the Chinese patients were treated, and have since recovered and traveled back to China, the Thai health ministry said this week.
On Tuesday, US health officials announced the country’s first case, a man in his 30s living near Seattle. On Friday a second case was announced —a woman in her 60s living in Chicago.
Both were treated and are recovering.
Vietnam confirmed two cases of the virus on Thursday. An infected man from Wuhan traveled to Ho Chi Minh City earlier this month and passed the virus on to his son.
Both are being treated in hospital and are stable, Vietnam health officials said.
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