Home >News >World >China death toll rises as New Year holiday extended in virus war

China’s death toll from the coronavirus climbed as the country extended the Lunar New Year holiday amid government reports that the infection’s spread is accelerating around the globe.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the disease, on Monday as the government faces pressure to combat an epidemic that shows little sign of slowing down. Chinese authorities said the virus isn’t yet under control despite aggressive steps to limit movement for millions of people who live in cities near the center of the outbreak.

Anxiety is growing amid evidence that the disease has an incubation period of as long as two weeks before those infected start to show signs of the illness. That raises the possibility that people carrying the virus but don’t show symptoms could infect others.

“The virus can be contagious during the incubation period, which is about 10 days, with the shortest being one day and longest being 14 days," Ma Xiaowei, Minister of National Health Commission, told a press conference on Sunday. “This is very different from SARS."

Deaths in China climbed to 80, the National Health Commission said on Monday. That’s up from only two just over a week ago. There are 2,744 confirmed cases on China’s mainland, and more than 30,000 people are under observation.

The sell-off that dominated U.S. equity markets on Friday continued Monday in Asia with stocks, crude oil and China’s yuan tumbling. Futures on Chinese shares fell more than 5% and 10-year Treasury yields hit their lowest since October on haven buying. U.S. stock futures pointed to further declines.

In an unprecedented move, China extended the Lunar New Year break until Feb. 2 from Jan. 30 originally. The delay for the end of the year’s biggest holiday, when hundreds of millions of Chinese leave cities to return to their hometowns, is an effort to prevent travelers from contributing to the spread as cases escalate.

Mainland China accounts for 98% of confirmed global infections, while more than a dozen countries and territories reported the illness within their borders. The World Health Organization said of 29 patients with infections outside China, 26 traveled through Wuhan.

Scientists are racing to understand the virus better, how contagious it is and where it comes from. First detected in Wuhan last month, it has sparked fears that the disease could rival SARS, the pandemic that claimed almost 800 lives 17 years ago.

China’s national medical products administration has granted emergency approval to test kits developed by four companies, without identifying them, to meet growing demand, the regulator announced Sunday.

Meanwhile, a clinical trial is under way using anti-HIV drugs ritonavir and lopinavir to treat cases of the new coronavirus, according to an article published in the Lancet medical journal Friday. Beijing’s municipal health commission said on Sunday the drugs made by AbbVie Inc. are part of the National Health Commission’s latest treatment plan, and its hospitals have supplies of the medicine if needed.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough or chest tightness, and difficulty breathing.

Wuhan Shutdown

Wuhan, a major hub in central China, remained effectively shut down as authorities last week suspended public transport as well as outbound flights and train services, and nearby municipalities also restricted the use of transport and public sites.

Premier Li visited the city on Monday to investigate the virus prevention work and give support to patients and medical staff, according to the government’s website. In a video circulated on Chinese social media, Li could be seen wearing a mask, telling the crowds that “we will definitely have 20,000 medical goggles delivered tonight."

More than 1,600 people will be sent to Wuhan over the next few days to assist in efforts to contain the spread.

The U.S. consulate in Wuhan plans to evacuate some Americans in a charter flight on Tuesday, and other governments and companies have said they are prepared to help their people leave the city that’s under lockdown. France is seeking approval to repatriate its citizens by mid-week, the health minister said Sunday. Japan also plans to evacuate nationals who wish to leave Wuhan. About 550 Japanese are in Hubei province.

Efforts were also put in place to stem the virus’s spread beyond mainland China. The Chinese government is banning all outgoing overseas group tours as of Monday after suspending domestic group tours last week. Mongolia closed its border crossing with China for autos and pedestrians.

Hong Kong officials announced the city would bar residents of Hubei province, where Wuhan is based, from entering the former British colony. The ban would also apply to anyone who had traveled to Hubei in the past 14 days. An exception would be made for Hong Kong residents, the statement said.

More patients around the globe tested positive for the coronavirus, with France reporting three cases and Canada disclosing its first. Australia confirmed a fifth case of coronavirus on Monday, while Hong Kong said it now has eight patients.

The U.S. has five cases, with three confirmed within 24 hours: two in Southern California and one in Maricopa County, Arizona. All the patients had recently been in Wuhan and are hospitalized. Their close contacts are being monitored for signs that they may be developing the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday. Washington state and Chicago earlier had confirmed infections.

“The U.S. has faced multiple pandemics before, of varying degrees of severity," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We need to be preparing as if this is a pandemic, but I continue to hope that it is not."

The virus is believed to have emerged last month in a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, spreading from infected animals to humans, and police have raided wildlife markets across eastern China.

China banned wildlife trade across the country, prohibiting the shipping and sale of wild animals and quarantining breeding sites, with the government warning against the consumption of wild animals.

China has made strides in monitoring and detecting infectious diseases since SARS and tightened controls on the sale of exotic animals, considered nourishing in some parts of the country. Yet the markets, which offer conditions that can set off potentially deadly contagions, remain popular and a central part of life in many cities throughout Asia.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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