Wuhan virus China’s President Xi Jinping warns spread is ‘accelerating’, country facing ‘grave situation’

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Chinese President Xi Jinping warned China was facing a “grave situation” given the “accelerating spread” of a new virus that has infected nearly 1,975 people across the country and killed 56, recently state media reported. “Faced with the grave situation of an accelerating spread of the new corona virus… it is necessary to strengthen the centralised and unified leadership of the Party Central Committee,” Xi said, according to official news agency Xinhua.

“As
long as we have steadfast confidence, work together, scientific prevention and
cures, and precise policies, we will definitely be able to win the
battle,” Xi told a meeting of the elite Politburo Standing Committee,
according to Xinhua. Xi held a politburo meeting on Saturday on measures to
fight the “accelerating” outbreak, state television reported.

The comments
come as Chinese authorities scramble to contain the new virus, which first
emerged in central Wuhan city, but has spread to at least 30 regions and
provinces in China. China has also announced further transport restrictions.
Hong Kong declared a virus emergency, scrapped celebrations and restricted
links to mainland China. Australia confirmed its first four cases on Saturday,
Malaysia confirmed four and France reported Europe’s first cases on Friday, as
health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a pandemic. Singapore
also has four confirmed cases.

The United
States is arranging a charter flight on Sunday to bring its citizens and
diplomats back from Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicentre of the
outbreak, the Wall Street Journal reported. In Hong Kong, with five confirmed
cases, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said flights and high speed rail trips
between the city and Wuhan will be halted. Schools in Hong Kong that are
currently on Lunar New Year holidays will remain closed until Feb 17.

As of 8pm
local time (8pm, Singapore time) on Saturday, the death toll in China had risen
to 42, authorities reported. Some 1,372 people in China had been infected with
the virus  traced to a seafood market in
Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife. The virus has also been detected in
Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, and the United States. In
Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, officials appealed for masks and
protective suits.

“We are
steadily pushing forward the disease control and prevention … But right now
we are facing an extremely severe public health crisis,” Hu Yinghai, deputy
director-general of the Civil Affairs Department, told a news briefing. The
newly identified corona virus has created alarm because there are still many
unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads
between people.

It can
cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases. Ride-hailing giant Didi
Chuxing said it was halting inter-city services to and from Beijing from
Sunday, while the capital will also stop running inter-province shuttle buses.
State broadcaster CCTV, citing an announcement from China’s tourism industry
association, said the country would halt all group tours, both at home and
abroad, from Monday.

Wuhan said
it would ban non-essential vehicles from its downtown starting Sunday, further
paralysing a city of 11 million that has been on virtual lock down since
Thursday, with nearly all flights cancelled and checkpoints blocking the main
roads leading out of town.

Authorities
have since imposed transport restrictions on nearly all of Hubei province,
which has a population of 59 million. On Saturday, the country’s capital said
it would suspend buses that entered and exited the city boundary, on top of
closing tourist attractions and cancelling large-scale events during the Lunar
New Year holiday. Australia confirmed its first four cases in two different
cities on Saturday, and the country’s chief health official said he expected
more cases as Australia is a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

State-run
China Global Television Network reported on Saturday that a doctor who had been
treating patients in Wuhan, 62-year-old Liang Wudong, had died from the virus.
US coffee chain Starbucks said it was closing all its outlets in Hubei province
for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, following a similar move by
McDonald’s in five Hubei cities.

Workers in
white protective suits checked temperatures of passengers entering the subway
at Beijing’s central railway station on Saturday, while some train services in
the eastern Yangtze River Delta region were suspended, the local railway
operator said.

‘Global health threat’

There are
fears transmission could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel
during the holiday, although many have cancelled their plans. Airports around
the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some
health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such
screening.

In an
illustration of how such efforts could miss cases, doctors at a Paris hospital
said that two of the three Chinese nationals in France who have been diagnosed
with the virus had arrived in the country without showing symptoms. The World
Health Organisation this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global
health emergency.

A report by
infectious disease specialists at Imperial College, London on Saturday said
that despite this, the epidemic “represents a clear and ongoing global health
threat” adding: “It is uncertain at the current time whether it is possible to
contain the continuing epidemic within China.” While China has called for
transparency in managing the crisis, after cover-up of the 2002/2003 Severe
Acute Respiratory Syndrome spread, officials in Wuhan have been criticised for
their handling of the current outbreak.

In rare
public dissent, a senior journalist at a Hubei newspaper run by the ruling
Communist Party called on Friday for a “immediate” change of leadership in
Wuhan on the Twitter-like Weibo. The post was later removed. Hubei province,
where authorities are rushing to build a 1,000 bed hospital in six days,
announced on Saturday that there were 658 patients affected by the virus in
treatment, 57 of whom were critically ill.

Shanghai
Disneyland was closed from Saturday.

Beijing’s Lama Temple, where people make offerings for the New Year,
has also closed, as have some other temples.

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