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Coronavirus: Chinese President Xi Jinping says country facing 'grave situation'

1,287 cases of the deadly virus have been found so far in total.

Officials wearing face masks among decorations for the Chinese New Year.
Officials wearing face masks among decorations for the Chinese New Year.
Image: PA

Updated Jan 25th 2020, 2:10 PM

CHINESE PRESIDENT XI Jinping has warned that China is facing a “grave situation” given the “accelerating spread” of a new virus that has killed at least 41 people so far. 

The number of infected cases with the coronavirus has risen to nearly 1,300, authorities in China said today. 

“Faced with the grave situation of an accelerating spread of the new coronavirus… it is necessary to strengthen the centralised and unified leadership of the Party Central Committee,” Xi said, according to news agency Xinhua.

Earlier today, Hong Kong declared the viral outbreak an “emergency”, the city’s highest warning tier. 

Five people in Hong Kong have so far tested positive for the virus. Of these, four arrived through a high-speed train terminal connecting the region with mainland China. 

The virus has killed 41 people so far. 15 recent deaths all took place in Wuhan, the city of 11 million people where the deadly respiratory contagion first emerged, the Hubei Health Commission said.

Australia confirmed its first four cases of the coronavirus earlier today, becoming the latest country in a growing list to be affected by the illness. 

Three cases were confirmed in France last night, the first in Europe. 

The disease has spread to 30 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. The total number of cases has risen to 1,287 as of this morning. 

Wuhan and 13 other cities in Hubei have been locked down in an unprecedented quarantine effort aimed at containing the deadly respiratory contagion.

People waiting at one hospital in Wuhan were angry and frustrated.

“It takes at least five hours to see a doctor,” one woman, who didn’t want to be named, told AFP. 

One man in his 30s said some people had to queue for two days.

Local authorities will race to build a second new hospital within a fortnight, state media reported, adding 1,300 new beds.

They have already begun building a new field hospital to deal with the outbreak, which state media said could be ready in just over a week.

The Hubei Health Commission reported 180 new cases overall in the province, 77 of them in Wuhan but the bulk of the rest spread out across the locked-down smaller cities. There are now 729 cases in Hubei alone.

Strict quarantine of those affected is difficult as the virus may be present in the lungs of people with no obvious symptoms, the South China Morning Post has reported. 

The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

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xinhua-photos-of-the-day The military medical aid team being sent to Wuhan in China. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

The Chinese army deployed 450 medical specialists to the city of Wuhan today. Wuhan will restrict car traffic to help contain the outbreak of the virus, Chinese officials confirmed this morning. 

“Motor vehicles shall be prohibited from driving in the central urban areas” from midnight, the government said, with a few exceptions such as official vehicles.

The virus has struck at possibly the worst time for China, when hundreds of millions of people are travelling across the country or overseas to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s most important festival.

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