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Wuhan Bans Cars, HKong Closes Schools  01/25 09:34

   BEIJING (AP) -- The virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, already on lockdown, 
banned most vehicle use downtown and Hong Kong said it would close schools for 
two weeks as authorities scrambled Saturday to stop the spread of an illness 
that has infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41. 

   Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response 
level to emergency, the highest one,  and close primary and secondary schools 
for two more weeks on top of next week's Lunar New Year holiday. They will 
re-open Feb. 17.

   Lam said that direct flights and trains from Wuhan would be blocked. The 
outbreak began in the city in central China and has spread nationwide and 
overseas, fueled by millions of people traveling during the country's biggest 
holiday. 

   In a sign of the growing strain on Wuhan's health care system, the official 
Xinhua news agency reported that the city planned to build a second makeshift 
hospital with about 1,000 beds. The city previously announced that construction 
of a hospital of the same size was underway and expected to be completed Feb. 3.

   The vast majority of the infections and all the deaths have been in mainland 
China, but fresh cases are popping up. Australia and Malaysia reported their 
first cases Saturday and Japan, its third. France confirmed three cases Friday, 
the first in Europe, and the U.S. identified its second, a woman in Chicago who 
had returned from China.

   The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses, 
some causing nothing worse than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, 
including cough and fever and, in more severe case, shortness of breath. It can 
worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

   Most of China's provinces and cities activated a Level 1 public health 
alert, the highest in a four-tier system, the state-owned China Daily newspaper 
reported Saturday.

   China cut off trains, planes and other links to Wuhan on Wednesday, as well 
as public transportation within the city, and has steadily expanded a lockdown 
to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million, 
greater than that of New York, London, Paris and Moscow combined.

   The cities of Yichang, Suizhou and Jingzhou were the latest added to the 
list on Friday evening and Saturday. 

   Wuhan went one step further Saturday, announcing vehicle use including 
private cars would be banned in downtown areas starting after midnight, state 
media reported. Only authorized vehicles to carry supplies and for other needs 
would be permitted after that, the reports said. 

   The city of 11 million people  will assign 6,000 taxis to different 
neighborhoods, under the management of local resident committees, to help 
people get around if they need to, the state-owned English-language China Daily 
newspaper said. 

   In Hong Kong, where five cases of the illness have been confirmed, a 
marathon that was expected to draw 70,000 participants on Feb. 9 was canceled, 
the South China Morning Post newspaper reported. 

   China's biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, unfolded Saturday in the shadow 
of the worrying new virus. Authorities canceled a host of Lunar New Year 
events, and closed major tourist sites and movie theaters. 

   The National Health Commission reported a jump in the number of infected 
people to 1,287. The latest tally, from 29 provinces and cities across China, 
included 237 patients in serious condition. Of the 41 deaths, 39 have been in 
Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital city, and one each in Hebei and 
Heilongjiang provinces. 

   Most of the deaths have been older patients, though a 36-year-old man in 
Hubei died earlier this week.

   Health authorities in the city of Hechi in Guangxi province said that a 
2-year-old girl from Wuhan had been diagnosed with the illness after arriving 
in the city. 

   The Australian state of Victoria announced its first case Saturday, a 
Chinese man in his 50s who returned from China last week, and the state of New 
South Wales confirmed three more cases later in the day. 

   Malaysia said three people tested positive Friday, all relatives of a father 
and son from Wuhan who had been diagnosed with the virus earlier in neighboring 
Singapore. Japan confirmed a third case, a Chinese tourist in her 30s who had 
arrived from Wuhan on Jan 18.

   The National Health Commission said it is bringing in medical teams from 
outside Hubei to help handle the outbreak, a day after videos circulating 
online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for examinations and 
complaints that family members had been turned away at hospitals that were at 
capacity.

   The Chinese military dispatched 450 medical staff, some with experience in 
past outbreaks including SARS and Ebola, who arrived in Wuhan late Friday night 
to help treat the many patients hospitalized with viral pneumonia, Xinhua 
reported.

   Xinhua also said that medical supplies are being rushed to the city, 
including 14,000 protective suits and 110,000 pairs of gloves from the central 
medical reserves as well as masks and goggles. 

   The rapid increase in reported deaths and illnesses does not necessarily 
mean the crisis is getting worse, but could reflect better monitoring and 
reporting of the newly discovered virus.

   It is not clear how lethal the new coronavirus is, or even whether it is as 
dangerous as the ordinary flu, which kills tens of thousands of people every 
year in the U.S. alone.

   The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is expecting 
more Americans to be diagnosed with the virus.

   The outbreak put a damper on Lunar New Year in China, the first day of the 
Year of the Rat. 

   Temples locked their doors, Beijing's Forbidden City, Shanghai Disneyland 
and other major tourist destinations closed, and people canceled restaurant 
reservations ahead of the holiday, normally a time of family reunions, 
sightseeing trips and other festivities in the country of 1.4 billion people.

   "We originally planned to go back to my wife's hometown and bought train 
tickets to depart this afternoon," said Li Mengbin, who was on a stroll by the 
moat of the closed Forbidden City. "We ended up cancelling. But I'm still happy 
to celebrate the new year in Beijing, which I hadn't for several years."


(KR)

 
 
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