More than 2,000 people globally have been infected with a new coronavirus, the vast majority of 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.
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 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 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 U.S. 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 Jan. 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.
Transport restrictions widen
Transportation curbs continued to widen, with the northern city of Tianjin to shut all inter-province shuttle buses from Jan. 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.