Chinese officials have extended the New Year holiday in the country to keep people at home in an effort to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The end of the holiday has been pushed back to Sunday from Thursday to “reduce mass gatherings” and “block the spread of the epidemic,” a Cabinet statement said. In Shanghai, a city of 25 million people, the government extended the holiday for an additional week. It also ordered sports events and religious gatherings to close.
Officials said on Monday that at least 81 people had died and more than 2,700 had been infected with the virus. The virus is thought to have spread to people from wild animals sold at a market in Wuhan.
On Sunday, Chinese officials temporarily banned the trade of wild animals and urged people to stop eating meat from them. In a statement, officials say they will “severely investigate and punish” violators of the ban.
China’s efforts to contain the virus began on January 22. Officials suspended plane, train and bus movement in and out of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China. The restrictions have expanded to 17 cities affecting more than 50 million people.
On Sunday, Wuhan officials banned the use of most vehicles, including private cars, in downtown areas. The city is also building two hospitals, one with 1,500 beds and another with 1,000, for the growing number of patients. The first is scheduled to be finished next week.
The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has flown to China. He is to meet with government officials and health experts. Tedros said the WHO wants “to understand the latest developments and strengthen our partnership with China in providing further protection against the outbreak.”
Last week, the WHO chose not to declare the virus a global health emergency because China had taken very strong measures to contain the disease. The U.N. agency added, however, that if the situation in China changed, it could happen “in a day” if needed.
The spread of the illness is being watched around the world. South Korea confirmed its fourth case Monday. Other reported illnesses have been confirmed in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Nepal. France, Canada and Australia also have confirmed the virus.
The U.S. Consulate in Wuhan said it was planning to evacuate its diplomats and some American citizens on Tuesday. Other governments, including France, Japan, and Germany also plan to move their citizens.
Mongolia became the second country to close its border with China, following North Korea. Mongolia also closed its schools, universities and playgrounds until March 2. Hong Kong and Malaysia announced they would bar entry to visitors from the Chinese province of Hubei where Wuhan is located.
Stock markets around the world were down sharply Monday. Many expected measures in Chinese cities to limit travel, shopping and business for millions of people. The disruption also threatens to limit Chinese economic growth and affect other Asian economies.
A Chinese government website shows pictures of Premier Li Keqiang wearing protective clothing and a green face mask during his visit to Wuhan to “guide epidemic prevention work.”
Later, he visited a supermarket in the city where shoppers, also wearing masks, cheered him with “Happy New Year!”
Li told the crowd, “To get the epidemic under control in Wuhan and the good health of people in Wuhan will be good news for the whole country."
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Hai Do adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from the Associated Press. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
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Words in This Story
epidemic –n. a medical emergency in which a disease spreads quickly among a large number of people
evacuate –v. to leave or be removed from a place where there is some danger
located –adj. where something is, its position