Wuhan bans cars, Hong Kong closes schools as virus spreads

Wuhan bans cars, Hong Kong closes schools as virus spreads

Sunday, January 26, 2020

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BEIJING (AP) — The virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, already on lockdown, banned most vehicle use downtown and Hong Kong said it would close schools for two weeks as authorities scrambled Saturday to stop the spread of an illness that has infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her Government will raise its response level to emergency, the highest one, and close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks on top of next week's Lunar New Year holiday. They will reopen February 17.

Lam said that direct flights and trains from Wuhan would be blocked. The outbreak began in the city in central China and has spread nationwide and overseas, fuelled by millions of people travelling during the country's biggest holiday.

In a sign of the growing strain on Wuhan's health care system, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the city planned to build a second makeshift hospital with about 1,000 beds. The city previously announced that construction of a hospital of the same size is underway and expected to be completed February 3.

The vast majority of the infections and all the deaths have been in mainland China, but fresh cases are popping up. Australia and Malaysia reported their first cases Saturday and Japan, its third. France confirmed three cases Friday, the first in Europe, and the US identified its second, a woman in Chicago who had returned from China.

The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever and, in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Most of China's provinces and cities activated a level 1 public health alert, the highest in a four-tier system, the State-owned China Daily newspaper reported Saturday.

China cut off trains, planes, and other links to Wuhan on Wednesday, as well as public transportation within the city, and has steadily expanded a lockdown to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million, greater than that of New York, London, Paris, and Moscow combined.

The cities of Yichang, Suizhou, and Jingzhou were the latest added to the list on Friday evening and Saturday.

Wuhan went one step further Saturday, announcing that vehicle use including private cars would be banned in downtown areas starting after midnight, State media reported. Only authorised vehicles to carry supplies and for other needs would be permitted after that, the reports said.

The city of 11 million people will assign 6,000 taxis to different neighbourhoods, under the management of local resident committees, to help people get around if they need to, the State-owned English-language China Daily newspaper said.

In Hong Kong, where five cases of the illness have been confirmed, a marathon that was expected to draw 70,000 participants on February 9 was cancelled, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

China's biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, unfolded Saturday in the shadow of the worrying new virus. Authorities cancelled a host of Lunar New Year events, and closed major tourist sites and movie theatres.

The National Health Commission reported a jump in the number of infected people to 1,287. The latest tally, from 29 provinces and cities across China, included 237 patients in serious condition. Of the 41 deaths, 39 have been in Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital city, and one each in Hebei and Heilongjiang provinces.

Most of the deaths have been older patients, though a 36-year-old man in Hubei died earlier this week.

Health authorities in the city of Hechi in Guangxi province said that a two-year-old girl from Wuhan had been diagnosed with the illness after arriving in the city.

The Australian state of Victoria announced its first case Saturday, a Chinese man in his 50s who returned from China last week, and the state of New South Wales confirmed three more cases later in the day.

Malaysia said three people tested positive Friday, all relatives of a father and son from Wuhan who had been diagnosed with the virus earlier in neighbouring Singapore. Japan confirmed a third case, a Chinese tourist in her 30s who had arrived from Wuhan on January 18.


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