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China expands lockdowns, to build hospital to treat virus


LATEST:

  • Quarantine expands to 10 cities in effort to curb coronavirus outbreak.
  • A total of 26 people have died, health authorities say, as cases rise.
  • Beijing cancels major public events including two well-known Lunar New Year temple fairs, to close The Forbidden City.
  • WHO panel of experts meets and says it’s ‘too early’ to call outbreak an international emergency.
  •  Shanghai Disneyland will be closed from Saturday to help prevent spread of the virus.

China is swiftly building a 1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with a new virus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities during the country’s most important holiday.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down Friday in at least 10 cities with a total of about 33 million people. The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and nine of its neighbors in central China’s Hubei province.

“To address the insufficiency of existing medical resources,” Wuhan authorities said in a Friday notice, the city is constructing a hospital modelled after the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing. The facility will be a prefabricated structure on a 270,000-square-foot lot, slated for completion Feb. 3.

The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China to more than a dozen countries and killed about 800 people. The hospital featured individual isolation units that looked like rows of tiny cabins.

In Wuhan, normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet on the second day of its lockdown. Masks were mandatory in public, and images from the city showed empty shelves as people stocked up for what could be an extended isolation.

Train stations, the airport and subways were closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.

Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were cancelled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations.

The Forbidden City, a major tourist destination in Beijing, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday. On Friday, authorities said Shanghai Disneyland will be closed from Saturday to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said Friday morning.

The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there but did not give details.

WATCH | China tightens travel restrictions to prevent spread of virus:

China has tightened restrictions on travel for at least three more cities as the new coronavirus appears in more locations. 1:56

Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan or people with connections the city, but scattered cases have occurred beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases Friday, and cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. 

Many countries are screening travellers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms.

The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-03 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

The first cases in the Wuhan outbreak late last month were connected to a seafood market, and experts suspect transmission began from wild animals sold there. The market is closed for investigation.

A worker stands amid heavy equipment at a construction site for a field hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, on Friday. (Chinatopix via The Associated Press)

Across China, a slew of cancellations and closures dampened the usual liveliness of Lunar New Year.

One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in full-body hazardous material suits.

Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancellations.

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