China: Death toll rises as coronavirus spreads

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China locks down Hebei province as fears a possible second wave rise coronavirus

The death toll from a newly-discovered coronavirus in China has risen to 41 on the day of the Lunar New Year.

Another 15 deaths in Hubei province, where the outbreak began, were announced on Saturday.

Health officials are struggling to contain the outbreak as millions of people travel for the Chinese new year, one of the most important events. Many festivities have been cancelled.

There are now more than 1,200 confirmed cases in China.

The virus has also spread to Europe, with three cases confirmed in France. The UK is investigating a number of suspected cases, with officials trying to trace around 2,000 people who have recently flown to the UK from Hubei province.

Australia has also confirmed several cases in Melbourne and Sydney, joining a handful of countries treating patients.

What does the virus do?

The coronavirus, previously unknown to science, causes severe acute respiratory infection with symptoms including a fever and cough. There is no specific cure or vaccine.

Based on an earlier report of the fatalities, when just 17 were dead, most of the victims appeared to be older people, many with pre-existing medical conditions.

But one of the dead in the most recent update was a doctor at a hospital in Hubei, China Global Television Network reported.

Symptoms seem to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough and then, after a week, lead to shortness of breath and some patients needing hospital treatment.

About a quarter of cases are thought to be severe.

What restrictions are in place in Hubei?

Travel restrictions vary from city to city.

Wuhan, where the outbreak began, is effectively on lockdown: all bus, underground and ferry services have been suspended, and all outbound planes and trains cancelled.

The People’s Daily newspaper reports that from Sunday, only special vehicles will be allowed on roads in Wuhan’s downtown area.

A new hospital is being built in the city, for patients. Chinese media outlets said the new 1,000-bed hospital could be ready within six days.

Pharmacies in the city have begun to run out of supplies and hospitals have been filled with nervous members of the public.

Residents have been advised not to leave, and roadblocks have been reported.

Ezhou, a smaller city in Hubei, shut its railway station. The city of Enshi has suspended all bus services.

And the rest of China?

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, raised the alert level to the highest level of emergency on Saturday, and extended the school holiday period to keep schools closed for two more weeks.

City officials in the capital, Beijing, and Shanghai have asked residents who return from affected areas to stay at home for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus, local media report.