China has extended the Lunar New Year holiday in efforts to contain the coronavirus as the death toll rose to 80.
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.
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.
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 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. Scattered cases also have been confirmed in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, the US, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada and Australia.
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.