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China Extends Holiday to Contain Virus 01/27 06:03

   China on Monday expanded sweeping efforts to contain a viral disease by 
extending the Lunar New Year holiday to keep the public at home and avoid 
spreading infection as the death toll rose to 81. 

   BEIJING (AP) -- China on Monday expanded sweeping efforts to contain a viral 
disease by extending the Lunar New Year holiday to keep the public at home and 
avoid spreading infection as the death toll rose to 81. 

   Hong Kong announced it would bar entry to visitors from the province at the 
center of the outbreak following a warning the virus's ability to spread was 
growing. Travel agencies were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide, adding 
to the rising economic cost.

   Increasingly drastic anti-disease efforts began with the Jan. 22 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. 

   The government of Shanghai, a metropolis of 25 million people and a global 
business center, extended the holiday by an additional week within the city to 
Feb. 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 hometowns or tourist sites for the 
holiday. Schools will postpone reopening until further notice, the Cabinet said.

   The death toll rose 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 Jan. 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 have appeared in other countries.

   South Korea confirmed its fourth case Monday. Cases also have been confirmed 
in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, 
France, Canada and Australia.

   The U.S. cases are in Washington state, Chicago, southern California and 
Arizona. 

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

   On Monday, China's No. 2 leader, Premier Li Keqiang, visited Wuhan to "guide 
epidemic prevention work," the Cabinet website said. Photos on the site showed 
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. Shoppers, also wearing masks, cheered to him, "Happy New Year!"

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

   Elsewhere, the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, closed 
indefinitely to tourists on Monday, the government announced. The former 
imperial palace in Beijing closed Friday until further notice and other major 
tourist sites also have shut down.

   The U.S. Consulate in Wuhan, said it was arranging to evacuate its diplomats 
and some American citizens on Tuesday. The French government said it would fly 
its citizens in Wuhan to France and quarantine them there. Japan was preparing 
to fly its nationals out of Wuhan. 

   French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, which has a factory in Wuhan, said it 
was moving foreign employees and their families by bus to be quarantined in 
another city. 

   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 spread shockwaves to Asian 
economies that rely on China as a source of tourists and export markets. 

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

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

   The outbreak is a "notable downside risk" to growth, though it "could 
potentially be a high impact but short-lived event," said Tommy Wu and Priyanka 
Kishore of Oxford Economics in a report. 

   They pointed to the example of the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, when economic 
activity plunged but recovered relatively quickly. The impact should be "less 
severe" than SARS because of faster official reaction and "increased 
transparency," they said. 

   Abroad, economies including Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and 
Philippines with big tourism industries that rely on Chinese travelers "seem 
most at risk," said Wu and Kishore. 

   The National Health Commission said 2,744 cases were confirmed by midnight 
Sunday.

   The youngest patient is a 9-month-old girl in Beijing. 

   China's health minister, Ma Xiaowei, said the country was entering a 
"crucial stage" as "it seems like the ability of the virus to spread is getting 
stronger." 

   President Xi Jinping has called the outbreak a grave situation and said the 
government was stepping restrictions on travel and public gatherings while 
rushing medical staff and supplies to Wuhan.

   The epidemic has revived memories of the SARS outbreak that originated in 
China and killed nearly 800 people. 

   Then, Chinese authorities were criticized for reacting slowly and failing to 
disclose information. The government has responded more aggressively to the 
latest outbreak. 

   The National Health Commission said anyone traveling from Wuhan is required 
to register with community health stations and quarantine themselves at home 
for 14 days --- the virus' maximum incubation period.

   Authorities tightened controls on travelers who had earlier contact with 
Wuhan.

   In the eastern city of Nanjing, 48 airline passengers arriving from Bangkok 
who were found to have left Wuhan during the outbreak were put into a 14-day 
quarantine, state TV reported on its website.

   Hong Kong announced it would bar entry to travelers from Hubei, starting 
Monday. Hong Kong residents returning from the area will be allowed into the 
territory but were told to quarantine themselves at home. 

   Two of Hong Kong's most popular tourist attractions, Hong Kong Disneyland 
and Ocean Park, closed. 

   Also Sunday, Wuhan banned most vehicle use, including private cars, in 
downtown areas. The city will assign 6,000 taxis to neighborhoods to help 
people get around if they need to. 

   Wuhan is building two hospitals, one with 1,500 beds and another with 1,000, 
for the growing number of patients. The first is scheduled to be finished next 
week. 

   The National Health Commission said it is sending extra medical teams to 
Wuhan. The Chinese military dispatched 450 medical staff, some with experience 
in past outbreaks including SARS and Ebola. 

   The virus is from the coronavirus family that includes the common cold but 
also more severe illnesses like SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The 
new virus causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in 
more severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia.

   The virus is thought to have spread to people from wild animals sold at a 
market in Wuhan. On Sunday, authorities banned trade in wild animals and called 
on the public to refrain from eating meat from them.


(KR)

 
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