China coronavirus infects around 900, kills 26 as holiday begins

24, Jan. 2020

BEIJING, Kyodo - A new coronavirus spreading rapidly in China has infected around 900 people and killed 26 in the country, health authorities said Friday, as the government sought to contain the outbreak at the start of the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday.

Cases have now been confirmed in 29 of the country's 31 provincial-level regions, according to the National Health Commission, while the virus has spread to other countries in Asia and the United States, sparking concerns about a possible global pandemic.

Since Thursday, outgoing transportation services, including trains and airplanes, have been suspended in Wuhan -- a city of 11 million people in central China where the virus was first detected.

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Nearby cities such as Huanggang and Ezhou also began implementing similar measures on Friday, local media reported.

In Hubei Province, where Wuhan and the nearby cities are located, about 600 people have been confirmed to have developed pneumonia caused by the virus, the media added.

Of the 26 deaths, 24 were in Hubei, 1 in Hebei Province, near Beijing, and 1 in Heilongjiang Province, in northeastern China, according to the authorities.

The World Health Organization said Thursday that the virus outbreak calls for urgent countermeasures but is not yet a global emergency.

During the Spring Festival through next Thursday, as the holiday period is also known, hundreds of millions of Chinese are expected to travel domestically and internationally. Fears are growing that the number of pneumonia patients may spike due to the transnational movement of people.

In Beijing, Miaohui, or temple fairs -- which are regarded as one of the most cherished traditions for Chinese during the Lunar New Year holiday -- have been canceled, and the Palace Museum, known as the Forbidden City, will be closed from Saturday.

In Shanghai, the biggest commercial hub in China, many museums have decided to close for the time being in order to prevent the expansion of the infection, Chinese media reported.

So far, around 20 cases of the new virus have been confirmed in China's two major cities, respectively.

Coronaviruses usually cause common-cold symptoms affecting the nose, sinuses or upper throat, and are spread through sneezing, coughing or direct contact.

Some types, however, lead to more serious, sometimes deadly respiratory diseases, like severe acute respiratory syndrome or Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as SARS and MERS.

SARS raged in China in 2003, and then spread worldwide, killing 774 people.

The new coronavirus is spreading in Asia and beyond after reports of mysterious pneumonia cases in Wuhan surfaced in late December. Cases of infection have been confirmed in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Macau, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea and the United States.