China has expanded lockdowns to at least 10 cities in a bid to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
The country is building a hospital dedicated to treating patients infected with the virus that has killed at least 26 people so far.
On the eve of the Lunar New Year, one of China’s most important holidays, transportation has been shut down 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 neighbours in central China’s Hubei province.
The Wuhan government said it is building a designated hospital with space for 1,000 beds in the style of a facility that Beijing constructed during the Sars epidemic. The hospital is expected to be completed on February 3, according to authorities.
Masks have been made mandatory in public in Wuhan, and images from the city showed empty shelves in shops as people stock up for what could be an extended isolation. Train stations, the airport and subways are closed.
Authorities are taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events have been cancelled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations. Two major tourist destinations, Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland, announced they will close indefinitely on Saturday.
The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said. Some 26 people have died, including the first two deaths outsideHubei
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 north-east confirmed a death there but did not give details.
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, but people who visited or had personal connections to infected people were among the scattered cases counted beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases on Friday and Singapore confirmed its third. Cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand and Vietnam.
Many countries are screening travellers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms.
The World Health Organisation has 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 Wuhan outbreak is suspected to have begun from wild animals sold at a food market in the city. The market is closed for investigation.