China ramps up defenses vs new virus
WUHAN, CHINA — China on Sunday expanded drastic travel restrictions to contain a viral contagion that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000, as the United States and France prepared to evacuate their citizens from a quarantined city at the outbreak’s epicenter. China has locked down the hard-hit province of Hubei in the country’s center and the capital Wuhan in an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people to slow the spread of a respiratory illness that President Xi Jinping said posed a “grave” threat.
The virus has spread throughout China and around the world, with cases confirmed in around a dozen other countries as distant as France, Australia, and the United States.
The US Department of State said on Sunday it was arranging a flight to evacuate staff at its consulate in Wuhan, as well as other American citizens trapped in the city.
The flight departs Wuhan on Tuesday for San Francisco, it said in an email to Americans in China, while warning of “extremely limited” capacity for private citizens.
France’s government and the French carmaker PSA—which has a sizable presence in Wuhan—also said they were formulating plans to evacuate staff and relatives, who would be taken to a city in a neighboring province to face a quarantine period.
Sri Lanka said its embassy in Beijing also was considering action regarding its own nationals.
In Hong Kong, Disneyland announced on Sunday that it was shutting its doors until further notice over the deadly new virus outbreak in the mainland, a day after city authorities classified the crisis as an emergency.
The park said it was taking the step to protect “the health and safety of our guests and cast members” and added refunds would be given.
Ocean Park, a rival amusement park on Hong Kong’s main island, said it was also closing its doors.
On Saturday, Hong Kong classified the outbreak as an “emergency”—the city’s highest warning tier—and announced ramped-up measures to reduce the risk of further infections.
The streets of stricken Wuhan were even more deserted on Sunday after new restrictions went into effect banning most cars from roads in the metropolis of 11 million.
A woman said she and fellow staff at a Wuhan hotel were living in the hotel itself as a precaution amid the transport freeze.
“The hotel is letting us live in it for our safety because if we go out we are afraid of being infected,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.
But residents interviewed by Agence France-Presse (AFP) generally took the hardship in stride.
“I have a lot of confidence. I believe the Wuhan city government can defeat this [epidemic],” said a man who gave only his surname, Wan.
Travel is also being curtailed in other parts of the country, with long-distance bus services entering and leaving Beijing suspended on Sunday. The neighboring northern city of Tianjin plans to follow suit on Monday.
The southern city of Shantou announced a partial lockdown on Sunday, restricting the entry of cars and suspending public transport, while passengers arriving in the city by train will be screened and “urged to return,” authorities said.
Tour groups suspendedOverseas Chinese tour groups will be suspended from Monday while domestic trips have already been halted since Friday.
The nationwide death toll rose to 56 after 15 new deaths, most of them in Hubei.
The financial hub of Shanghai, which has extensive international air connections, on Sunday reported its first death—an 88-year-old man who had preexisting health problems.
It was the first death reported in a major city outside of Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have originated in a seafood and live animal market.
The government has said most fatalities were people already weakened by preexisting health conditions.
Fearing a repeat of the deadly 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, China has dramatically scaled back celebrations and travel associated with the week-long Lunar New Year holiday that began on Friday to prevent large gatherings of people.
Xi said at a Communist Party leadership meeting on the situation that China was “faced with the grave situation of an accelerating spread” of the virus, calling for stepped-up prevention efforts. —AFP
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