China toughens defences against virus outbreak as death toll hits 56
On Monday, China widened severe travel restrictions to include an epidemic that killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000 as the US, France, and Japan prepared to evacuate their residents from a quarantined city at the epicenter of the outbreak.
In an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people in attempt to slow the spread of the respiratory virus, China has locked up the hard-hit Hubei province at the country’s core, officials say.
It seems to be “getting stronger” even though it is “not as effective as SARS,” said top Chinese health officials at a press conference.
The previously unknown virus has caused global alarm due to its resemblance to the pathogen Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which in 2002-2003 killed hundreds of people across mainland China and Hong Kong.
Outside the epicenter, the province of Shandong and four cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, and Tianjin — have announced bans on long-distance buses entering or leaving, a step that will affect millions of people traveling through the New Year holiday.
Guangdong’s populous southern province, Jiangxi in the center and three towns made it mandatory for people to wear face masks in public.
Emerging in Wuhan’s capital city of Hubei, the virus has spread across China and the world — with cases reported in around a dozen countries including as far away as the US.
Sunday, the US State Department said it was arranging a flight from Wuhan to San Francisco for the city’s consulate personnel and other Americans.
France’s government and French car maker PSA also mentioned they were planning to shift the workers and families in a neighboring province to be quarantined in a district.
Japan is coordinating with Beijing to quickly evacuate its citizens, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
South Korea’s Wuhan consulate said it was conducting an online citizens’ survey there to measure demand for a reserved out-flight.