China extends new year holiday to contain coronavirus as death toll rises

27 January 2020, 18:14

Workers package medical masks in a factory in China’s Jiangsu Province
China Outbreak. Picture: PA

Travel agencies have been ordered to cancel group tours nationwide, adding to the rising economic cost of the viral disease.

China has extended the Lunar New Year holiday in efforts to contain the coronavirus as the death toll rose to 81.

Hong Kong announced it would bar entry to visitors from the province at the centre of the outbreak following a warning the virus’s ability to spread was growing.

Travel agencies have been ordered to cancel group tours nationwide, adding to the rising economic cost of the viral disease.

A man wears a face mask as he rides a bus in Fuyang in eastern China’s Anhui Province
A man wears a face mask as he rides a bus in Fuyang in eastern China’s Anhui Province (Chinatopix via AP)

Increasingly drastic anti-disease efforts began on January 22 with the suspension of plane, train and bus links to Wuhan – a city of 11 million people in central China where the virus was first detected last month.

That lockdown has expanded to a total of 17 cities with more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease-control measures ever imposed.

The end of the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s busiest travel season, was pushed back to Sunday from Thursday to “reduce mass gatherings” and “block the spread of the epidemic”, a cabinet statement said.

China Outbreak
The outbreak has impacted Lunar New Year celebrations (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

The government of Shanghai, a metropolis of 25 million people and a global business centre, extended the holiday by an additional week within the city to February 9. It ordered sports stadiums and religious events closed.

Tens of millions of people had been due to crowd into planes, trains and buses to return to work after visiting their home towns or tourist sites for the holiday. Schools will postpone reopening until further notice, the cabinet said.

The death toll rose on Monday when the southern island province of Hainan in the South China Sea reported its first fatality, an 80-year-old woman whose family arrived from Wuhan on January 17.

Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, has accounted for 76 of the deaths reported so far.

There have been one each in Shanghai and the provinces of Hebei in the north, Heilongjiang in the northeast and Henan in central China.

The spread of the illness is being watched around the globe, with a small number of cases appearing in several other countries.

South Korea has confirmed its fourth case.

Public health officials in Canada said on Monday that the wife of the man who is Canada’s first case of the emerging virus from China has also tested positive for the virus.

Ontario said the woman has been in self-imposed isolation since arriving in Toronto with her husband last week.

Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams said the woman tested positive for the virus at Ontario’s public health laboratory. He said because she has been in self-isolation, the risk to Canadians remains low.

But Canadian officials have been reaching out to those aboard the China Southern Airlines flight who sat within two metres of the man.

Public health officials said the woman’s husband, a man in his 50s, had been showing mild symptoms on his flight from Guangzhou, China, to Toronto. His first flight started in Wuhan.

China Outbreak
Chinese premier Li Keqiang, centre, talks to shoppers at a supermarket in Wuhan (Chinatopix Via AP)

Cambodia’s health minister said a Chinese visitor to a popular resort is his country’s first case of the new virus.

Mam Bunheng told a press conference that a 60-year-old Chinese man in the southern coastal city of Sihanoukville was confirmed on Monday to have the virus.

He said the infected man had flown directly from Wuhan to Sihanoukville on January 23, showing symptoms of the illness on Saturday.

The Pasteur Institute in the capital, Phnom Penh, confirmed the infection from a blood sample. The man is undergoing treatment at a hospital in Sihanoukville.

Sihanoukville is a popular destination for Chinese visitors. The man’s three travelling companions from Wuhan were found not to have the virus.

Sri Lankan health authorities said that the country has its first confirmed case.

The patient is a Chinese woman in her 40s who arrived in Sri Lanka last week as a tourist from China’s Hubei province, said Dr Sudath Samaraweera, chief epidemiologist of the country’s health ministry.

Hong Kong has confirmed two more cases, raising its total to eight.

Health department official Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said on Monday that all the cases are connected to Hubei province, where the outbreak started in December.

She said there is no sign yet of it spreading to Hong Kong’s general population.

Dr Chuang added the government is still very concerned about that possibility and will watch developments.

Scattered cases also have been confirmed in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, the US, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada and Australia.

South Korea China Outbreak
Employees work to prevent a new coronavirus at Suseo Station in Seoul, South Korea (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

The US has confirmed cases in Washington state, Chicago, southern California and Arizona.

China also reported five cases in Hong Kong and two in Macao.

China’s premier Li Keqiang has visited Wuhan to “guide epidemic prevention work”, the Cabinet website said. Photos on the site showed Mr Li, in a blue smock and green face mask, meeting hospital employees. Later, the premier, wearing a face mask and a dark windbreaker, visited a supermarket.

Mr Li told a crowd of people: “To get the epidemic under control in Wuhan and the good health of people in Wuhan will be good news for the whole country. We wish the people of Wuhan a safe, healthy and long life. Let’s go, Wuhan!”

The disruption to industry and consumer spending threaten to depress Chinese economic growth that Beijing is struggling to shore up after it sank to a multi-decade low of 6.1% last year. That could send shockwaves to Asian economies that rely on China as a source of tourists and export markets.

Chinese regulators called on banks and insurers to support to people and companies affected by the outbreak.

The biggest impact will be on travel, hotels and restaurants but forecasters say Chinese retail spending, factory output and investment might also suffer if the outbreak and quarantines last.

By Press Association

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