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, the AP reports. 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. For more:
- Worldwide: Australia and Malaysia reported their first cases Saturday, and Japan, its third. France confirmed three cases Friday, the first in Europe, and the US identified its second, a woman in Chicago who had returned from China.
- Lockdown: In the heart of the outbreak, Wuhan, whose 11 million residents are already on lockdown, banned most vehicle use, including private cars, in downtown areas starting Sunday, state media reported. Only authorized vehicles carrying supplies and for other needs would be permitted. The city will assign 6,000 taxis to different neighborhoods, under the management of resident committees, to help people get around if they need to.
- Hong Kong: 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. Lam said direct flights and trains from Wuhan would be blocked.
- Wuhan: 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 previously announced construction of a hospital of the same size that was expected to be completed Feb. 3.
- Coronaviruses: 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.
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