China Warns of ‘Grave Situation’ as Coronavirus Death Toll Rises

Chinese President Xi Jinping makes dire warning as the government takes further steps to combat the deadly coronavirus that has infected nearly 2,000 and killed 56.

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China on Sunday reported that the deaths from the coronavirus had risen to 56, while confirmed cases of the virus rose to 1,975.

The third U.S. case of the virus - a person in Orange County, California - has been confirmed.

China's President Xi Jinping on Saturday warned of a 'grave situation' as the government took additional measures to prevent what Xi himself called the “accelerating spread” of the deadly coronavirus.

In an ominous sign of how the virus is being viewed by top Chinese officials, Xi convened a meeting of the Communist Party leadership on Saturday to kickstart efforts to contain the outbreak, assist the ill and speed up supplies to locked-down cities and regions.

In official remarks delivered on Chinese television on Saturday, Xi warned of the “grave” situation of the rapidly escalating health crisis that has triggered emergency health measures in cities across China.

The virus “has not been blocked, and it is spreading,” Sun Chunlan, a Politburo member who is deputy prime minister of the State Council, the country’s Cabinet, said in separate remarks reported by state media, also calling for an even greater “sense of responsibility and urgency.”

Efforts to contain the virus began Thursday, when Chinese authorities closed off Wuhan, a city of more than 11 million residents where the virus originated, and canceled all planes and trains leaving the city and shut down public transport inside.

As of Saturday, at least 48 million people had been ordered on lockdown in central China, with a travel ban covering 15 cities in the central Hubei province. Hong Kong also instituted emergency measures and announced that all schools will be closed until Feb. 17 to try to limit the possibility of transmission.

Liang Wudong, a doc­tor who had worked for many years at one of the Wuhan hospitals where coro­navirus pa­tients are be­ing treated, died from the virus on Sat­ur­day morn­ing, according to reports. 

Beyond the lockdowns, the country took additional measures on Saturday to suspend tours abroad and cancelled planned public gatherings celebrating the lunar new year as the death toll from the recent coronavirus outbreak continued to rise, with 15 of those in Wuhan.

Other efforts were also being made to contain Chinese locals, including the suspension of all tour groups and the sale of flight and hotel packages for its citizens headed overseas, starting on Monday.

The association for China’s travel agencies said tour groups that were in the middle of their trips could proceed with their itineraries but should closely monitor the health of their travelers – welcome news for countries that have stepped up their screening of travelers.

So far, cases of the illness have been reported in Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, France and the United States, according to published reports.

As of Saturday evening, China had counted 1,369 cases of the fast-spreading disease, according to published reports citing Chinese health officials, with more than 237 of those cases being cited as severe. 

In Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, videos and witness accounts have shown packed hospitals and overworked staff. A new, 1,000-bed hospital is reportedly being built on the city's outskirts, to be ready by February 3.

Meantime, the U.S. State Department ordered all American workers at the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan to evacuate. 

Lit­tle about the virus is un­der­stood, in­clud­ing its ori­gin, how eas­ily it trans­mits from per­son to per­son and how long it takes for an in­fected in­di­vid­ual to dis­play symptoms.

The rapidly spreading virus and equally rapid updates on its impact came as new evidence emerged on Saturday that Wuhan authorities deliberately downplayed the coronavirus and banned doctors from speaking publicly about it, according to published reports.

The outbreak comes amid peak travel for the lunar new year celebrations - a time when millions of Chinese take time off from work and travel both within and outside the country. The holiday is observed from Jan. 25 to Feb. 8 this year, the year of the rat. 

On Wall Street Friday, the S&P logged its worst day of the year and its biggest percentage decline since Oct. 7 on fears a widespread outbreak could slow the global economy. The declines followed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's confirmation that two patients in the U.S. have contracted the coronavirus, designated 2019-nCoV.

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