China’s finance ministry and National Health Commission have announced 60.33 billion yuan ($12.8 billion) in funding to curb the spread of coronavirus, as the death toll from the outbreak rises to 81.
- The Chinese Government is stepping up measures to contain the spread of the virus by investing billions and extending the Lunar New Year holiday
- Wuhan is under further restrictions — visa and passport services have been suspended until January 30
- Some of China’s biggest companies have been affected, as the outbreak upsets global markets
The total number of confirmed cases in China is 2,744, about half of them in Hubei province, whose capital is Wuhan.
The virus has caused alarm because it is still too early to know how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people.
The number of deaths from the flu-like virus in Hubei climbed to 76 from 56, health officials said, with five deaths elsewhere in China, including the southern island province of Hainan, which reported its first fatality on Monday.
As worries grew around the world, Chinese-ruled Hong Kong — which has had eight confirmed cases — banned entry to people who had visited Hubei in the past 14 days.
While a small number of cases have been confirmed in more than 10 countries, linked to people who travelled from Wuhan, no deaths have been reported elsewhere.
Thailand and Hong Kong have each reported eight cases of infection; the United States, Australia, Taiwan and Macau have five each; Japan, Singapore and Malaysia each have reported four; France and South Korea three each; Vietnam two, and one each in Canada and Nepal.
Wuhan is already in virtual lockdown and severe limits on movement are in place in several other Chinese cities.
The city of 11 million clamped down further on Monday, announcing the suspension of visa and passport services until January 30.
Despite the curbs, the mayor of Wuhan said on Sunday that five million people had left the city for holidays and other reasons.
Images from Wuhan showing hospital corridors packed with people seeking treatment have circulated on social media, along with complaints of soaring prices for essentials such as vegetables.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited the central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, as the Government sought to signal it was responding seriously to the crisis.
The Government is also extending the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days to February 2, in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.
The Lunar New Year is usually a time for millions of people to travel, but many have had to cancel their plans because of travel bans due to the virus.
Incubation period of up to 14 days
Chinese leaders have called for transparency in the crisis, after public trust was eroded during the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.
Chinese National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said on Sunday the incubation period could range from one to 14 days, and the virus was infectious during incubation, unlike SARS.
The virus is believed to have originated late last year in a Wuhan market illegally selling wildlife.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health experts have questioned the effectiveness.
Macau said on Monday it would deny entry to visitors from China’s Hubei province or those who visited the province 14 days prior to arrival unless they could provide documentation showing they were not infected with the virus.
Macau’s Government also said it is banning anyone who had been to Hubei province within 14 days of their arrival in the island from the premises of the city’s casinos.
Impact on China’s economy
The World Health Organization (WHO) last week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health experts questioned whether China could contain the epidemic.
Hubei Governor Wang Xiaodong told a Sunday news conference he felt “agonised” and responsible for the outbreak, but his comments sparked anger on social media.
The outbreak has upset global markets, with stocks tumbling on Monday, while demand for safe-haven assets has spiked and Singapore has warned of negative impact on its economy.
Some of China’s biggest companies have been affected, with hotpot restaurant chain Haidilao International Holding shutting branches nationwide from Sunday to Friday.
Gaming giant Tencent Holdings Ltd advised staff to work from home until February 7, and e-commerce firm Alibaba removed sales of overpriced face masks from its online Taobao marketplace as prices surged.