The death toll from China’s new coronavirus grew to 80 on Jan. 27 as residents of Hubei province, where the disease originated, were banned from entering Hong Kong amid global efforts to halt the rapid spread of the outbreak.
The number of deaths from the flu-like virus in Hubei province climbed from 56 to 76 overnight, health commission officials said, with four deaths elsewhere. The total number of confirmed cases in China had risen about 30 percent to 2,744.
China’s cabinet said it would extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days to Feb. 2 in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. The Hubei city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, is already under virtual lockdown, with severe restrictions on movement in place in several other Chinese cities.
Beijing has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after public trust was eroded by a cover-up of the spread of SARS, a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.
The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because much about it is still unknown, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
The virus, believed to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife, has already spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai.
Hong Kong ban, global screening
Chinese-ruled Hong Kong has six confirmed cases and said it would ban entry from Jan. 26 to people who have visited Hubei province in the past 14 days. The ban does not apply to Hong Kong residents.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of these efforts.
France, Italy, Japan and the United States all said they were working to evacuate citizens from Wuhan.
France said it expected to repatriate up to a few hundred of its 800 citizens living in the Wuhan area. Evacuees would have to spend 14 days in quarantine to avoid spreading the virus in France.
Hubei’s governor, Wang Xiaodong, said at a news conference on Jan. 26 he felt “agonized” and responsible for the outbreak. He described the situation as severe and said medical supplies were still tight.
News of the press conference sparked anger on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, although social media platforms in China usually delete such sensitive content.
“He thinks one sentence of apology will be enough to solve the problem? Let’s await the judgment of the people of the country,” one user posted.
It is rare for Chinese authorities to allow such criticism of public officials on the country’s tightly controlled social media.