Xi calls situation grave as China scrambles to contain virus

APTOPIX_China_Outbreak_67322 In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker attends to a patient in the intensive care unit at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. China expanded its lockdown against the deadly new virus to an unprecedented 36 million people and rushed to build a prefabricated, 1,000-bed hospital for victims Friday as the outbreak cast a pall over Lunar New Year, the country's biggest, most festive holiday.
China_Outbreak_56571 Scooter drivers wear face masks as they wait to cross an intersection in Fuyang in central China's Anhui province, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. China's most festive holiday began in the shadow of a worrying new virus Saturday as the death toll surpassed 40, an unprecedented lockdown kept 36 million people from traveling and authorities canceled a host of Lunar New Year events.
China_Outbreak_22692 People wearing face masks walk under a canopy decorated with spinning colored fans for a canceled Lunar New Year temple fair at Longtan Park in Beijing, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. China's most festive holiday began in the shadow of a worrying new virus Saturday as the death toll surpassed 40, an unprecedented lockdown kept 36 million people from traveling and authorities canceled a host of Lunar New Year events.
China_Outbreak_10652 Shoppers wearing face masks pay for their groceries at a supermarket in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. The virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, already on lockdown, banned most vehicle use downtown and Hong Kong said it would close schools for two weeks as authorities scrambled Saturday to stop the spread of an illness that is known to have infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41, according to officials.
APTOPIX_China_Outbreak_02709 Employees stand at the gates of the Shanghai Disney Resort, which announced that it will be closed indefinitely from Saturday, in Shanghai, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. China's most festive holiday began in the shadow of a worrying new virus Saturday as the death toll surpassed 40, an unprecedented lockdown that kept people from traveling was expanded to more than 50 million residents and authorities canceled a host of Lunar New Year events.
China_Outbreak_18076 A policeman wearing a face mask takes a tourist's temperature at the Qinhuai scenic zone in Nanjing in eastern China's Jiangsu province, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. The virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, already on lockdown, banned most vehicle use downtown and Hong Kong said it would close schools for two weeks as authorities scrambled Saturday to stop the spread of an illness that is known to have infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41, according to officials.
China_Outbreak_87242 People walk past a checkpoint for temperature checks and mandatory face masks at the Qinhuai scenic zone in Nanjing in eastern China's Jiangsu province, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. The virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, already on lockdown, banned most vehicle use downtown and Hong Kong said it would close schools for two weeks as authorities scrambled Saturday to stop the spread of an illness that is known to have infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41, according to officials.
Hong_Kong_China_Outbreak_93236 Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference held in Hong Kong Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. The virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, already on lockdown, banned most vehicle use downtown and Hong Kong said it would close schools for two weeks as authorities scrambled Saturday to stop the spread of an illness that has infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41.
China_Outbreak_77363 A worker dispenses hand sanitizer to shoppers at the entrance of a supermarket in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. The virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, already on lockdown, banned most vehicle use downtown and Hong Kong said it would close schools for two weeks as authorities scrambled Saturday to stop the spread of an illness that is known to have infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41, according to officials.
China_Outbreak_19520 A shopper wearing goggles, a face mask and gloves uses a self checkout machine at a supermarket in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. The virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, already on lockdown, banned most vehicle use downtown and Hong Kong said it would close schools for two weeks as authorities scrambled Saturday to stop the spread of an illness that is known to have infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41, according to officials.
China_Outbreak_36025 In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker attends to a patient in the intensive care unit at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. China expanded its lockdown against the deadly new virus to an unprecedented 36 million people and rushed to build a prefabricated, 1,000-bed hospital for victims Friday as the outbreak cast a pall over Lunar New Year, the country's biggest, most festive holiday.
China_Outbreak_67322 In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker attends to a patient in the intensive care unit at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. China expanded its lockdown against the deadly new virus to an unprecedented 36 million people and rushed to build a prefabricated, 1,000-bed hospital for victims Friday as the outbreak cast a pall over Lunar New Year, the country's biggest, most festive holiday.
China_Outbreak_18891 In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a medical workers transfer a patient out of the intensive care unit at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. China expanded its lockdown against the deadly new virus to an unprecedented 36 million people and rushed to build a prefabricated, 1,000-bed hospital for victims Friday as the outbreak cast a pall over Lunar New Year, the country's biggest, most festive holiday.
China-Outbreak-US_53240 Airport employees wear face masks in Terminal 5 at O'Hare International Airport, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020 in Chicago. A Chicago woman has become the second U.S. patient diagnosed with the dangerous new virus from China, health officials announced Friday.
China-Outbreak-US_29365 A sales clerk at a pharmacy rings up a purchase of face masks as fears of the coronavirus continues, Friday, Jan 24, 2020 in Chicago. A Chicago woman has become the second U.S. patient diagnosed with the dangerous new virus from China, health officials announced Friday.
APTOPIX_China_Outbreak_36025 In this Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker attends to a patient in the intensive care unit at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. China expanded its lockdown against the deadly new virus to an unprecedented 36 million people and rushed to build a prefabricated, 1,000-bed hospital for victims Friday as the outbreak cast a pall over Lunar New Year, the country's biggest, most festive holiday.
China-Outbreak-US_85223 Passengers from United flight UA850 direct from Beijing arrive at Terminal 5 at O'Hare International Airport, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020 in Chicago. A Chicago woman has become the second U.S. patient diagnosed with the dangerous new virus from China, health officials announced Friday.
Hong_Kong_China_Outbreak_30274 Passengers wearing protective face masks enter the departure hall of a high speed train station in Hong Kong, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. China expanded its lockdown against the deadly new virus to an unprecedented 36 million people and rushed to build a prefabricated, 1,000-bed hospital for victims Friday as the outbreak cast a pall over Lunar New Year, the country's biggest, most festive holiday..
China_Outbreak_19136 A man wears a face mask as he rides a nearly empty subway train near the Shanghai Disney Resort, which announced that it will be closed indefinitely from Saturday, in Shanghai, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. China's most festive holiday began in the shadow of a worrying new virus Saturday as the death toll surpassed 40, an unprecedented lockdown that kept people from traveling was expanded to more than 50 million residents and authorities canceled a host of Lunar New Year events.
Hong_Kong_China_Outbreak_36061 Health surveillance officer use temperature scanner to monitor passengers arriving at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. Hong Kong has declared the outbreak of a new virus an emergency and will close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks after the Lunar New Year holiday. City leader Carrie Lam also announced Saturday that trains and flights from the city of Wuhan would be blocked.
Hong_Kong_China_Outbreak_51006 Passengers wear masks as they walk at the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. Hong Kong has declared the outbreak of a new virus an emergency and will close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks after the Lunar New Year holiday. City leader Carrie Lam also announced Saturday that trains and flights from the city of Wuhan would be blocked.
China_Outbreak_06123 Children adjust their face masks as they wait in line at check-in counters at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. Hong Kong has declared the outbreak of a new virus an emergency and will close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks after the Lunar New Year holiday. City leader Carrie Lam also announced Saturday that trains and flights from the city of Wuhan would be blocked.
China_Outbreak_42638 Visitors carry umbrellas as they walk through the Disneytown area of the Shanghai Disney Resort, which announced that it will be closed indefinitely from Saturday, in Shanghai, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. China's most festive holiday began in the shadow of a worrying new virus Saturday as the death toll surpassed 40, an unprecedented lockdown that kept people from traveling was expanded to more than 50 million residents and authorities canceled a host of Lunar New Year events.
China_Outbreak_01450 Security personnel walk outside the gates of the Shanghai Disney Resort, which announced that it will be closed indefinitely from Saturday, in Shanghai, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. China's most festive holiday began in the shadow of a worrying new virus Saturday as the death toll surpassed 40, an unprecedented lockdown that kept people from traveling was expanded to more than 50 million residents and authorities canceled a host of Lunar New Year events.
(1/24)

BEIJING (AP) — China’s leader on Saturday called the accelerating spread of a new virus a grave situation, as cities from the outbreak’s epicenter in central China to Hong Kong scrambled to contain an illness that has infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41.

President Xi Jinping’s remarks, reported by state broadcaster CCTV, came at a meeting of Communist Party leaders convened on Lunar New Year — the country’s biggest holiday whose celebrations have been muted — and underlined the government’s urgent, expanding efforts to control the outbreak.

Travel agencies have been told to halt all group tours, the state-owned English-language China Daily newspaper reported, citing the China Association of Travel Services.

Millions of people traveling during the holiday have fueled the spread of the outbreak nationwide and overseas after it began in the city of Wuhan in central China. The vast majority of the infections and all the deaths have been in mainland China, but fresh cases are popping up.

Australia and Malaysia reported their first cases Saturday — four each —and Japan, its third.

Canada reported its first case Saturday in Toronto. Officials said the man is his 50s and recently flew from Wuhan to Guangzhou, China and then on to Toronto on Jan. 23.

France confirmed three cases Friday, the first in Europe, and the U.S. identified its second, a woman in Chicago who had returned from China.

In the heart of the outbreak where 11 million residents are already on lockdown, Wuhan banned most vehicle use, including private cars, in downtown areas starting Sunday, state media reported. Only authorized vehicles would be permitted, the reports said.

The city will assign 6,000 taxis to neighborhoods, under the management of resident committees, to help people get around if they need to, China Daily said.

In Hong Kong, leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, the highest one, and close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks on top of next week’s Lunar New Year holiday. They will reopen Feb. 17.

Lam said direct flights and trains from Wuhan would be blocked.

In a sign of the growing strain on Wuhan’s health care system, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the city planned to build a second makeshift hospital with about 1,000 beds. The city has said another hospital was expected to be completed Feb. 3.

The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

China cut off trains, planes and other links to Wuhan on Wednesday, as well as public transportation within the city, and has steadily expanded a lockdown to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million — greater than that of New York, London, Paris and Moscow combined.

China’s biggest holiday, Lunar New Year, unfolded Saturday in the shadow of the virus. Authorities canceled a host of events, and closed major tourist destinations and movie theaters.

Temples locked their doors, Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland closed, and people canceled restaurant reservations ahead of the holiday, normally a time of family reunions, sightseeing trips and other festivities in the country of 1.4 billion people.

“We originally planned to go back to my wife’s hometown and bought train tickets to depart this afternoon,” said Li Mengbin, who was on a stroll near the closed Forbidden City. “We ended up canceling. But I’m still happy to celebrate the new year in Beijing, which I hadn’t for several years.”

Temples and parks were decorated with red streamers, paper lanterns and booths, but some places started dismantling the decor.

People in China wore medical masks to public places like grocery stores, where workers dispensed hand sanitizer to customers. Some parts of the country had checkpoints for temperature readings and made masks mandatory.

The National Health Commission reported a jump in the number of infected people, to 1,287. The latest tally, from 29 provinces and cities across China, included 237 patients in serious condition.

Of the 41 deaths, 39 have been in Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital city. Most of the deaths have been older patients, though a 36-year-old man in Hubei died this week.

French automaker PSA Group says it will evacuate its employees from Wuhan, quarantine them and then bring them to France. The Foreign Ministry said it was working on “eventual options” to evacuate French citizens from Wuhan “who want to leave.” It didn’t elaborate.

The National Health Commission said it is bringing in medical teams to help handle the outbreak, a day after videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for examinations and complaints that family members had been turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.

The Chinese military dispatched 450 medical staff, some with experience in past outbreaks, including SARS and Ebola, who arrived in Wuhan late Friday to help treat many patients hospitalized with viral pneumonia, Xinhua reported.

Xinhua also said medical supplies are being rushed to the city, including 14,000 protective suits, 110,000 pairs of gloves and masks and goggles.

The rapid increase in reported deaths and illnesses does not necessarily mean the crisis is getting worse but could reflect better monitoring and reporting of the virus.

It is not clear how lethal the new coronavirus is or even whether it is as dangerous as the ordinary flu, which kills tens of thousands of people every year in the U.S. alone.

___

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies, Associated Press researcher Henry Hou and video journalist Dake Kang contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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