Wuhan has officially declared a state of “war” on the deadly virus after the death toll climbed to 41 on Saturday.
Fifteen new fatalities were reported on Saturday and more than 1,000 people were now affected globally.
All of the new deaths took place in the provincial capital of Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the deadly respiratory contagion first emerged, the Hubei Health Commission said.
Wuhan and 13 other cities in the province have been locked down in an unprecedented quarantine effort aimed at containing the deadly respiratory contagion, which has spread nationwide and to several other countries.
The health commission also 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.
Several of those cities were reporting their first cases of the pathogen – 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) – the commission said.
Those numbers will add to the 830 confirmed cases of infection nationwide, which was reported in the central government’s latest tally released on Friday.
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.
It also has struck at possibly the worst time for China, when hundreds of millions of people are traveling across the country or overseas to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s most important festival.
Another death was reported in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, which borders Russia and is some 2,000 kilometers, or 1,200 miles, from Wuhan, the local government said. It follows confirmation on Thursday of the first death outside Wuhan – an 80-year-old man diagnosed with the disease in northern Hebei province.
“Wuhan must strictly implement the public health emergency action level-II requirements set by Hubei province, completely enter a state of war and put resolute efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus,” Ma Guoqiang, the party secretary in Wuhan and deputy party secretary in Hubei, said on Thursday morning in a video conference with Mayor Zhou Xianwang and his subordinates.
On Thursday, 259 new confirmed cases of Wuhan disease were identified in 27 Chinese cities and provinces, pushing up the total number to 830, the National Health Commission said in a statement on Friday. A total of 177 patients were in serious condition.
The country also recorded 680 new suspected cases on Thursday and has traced 9,507 people who had close contact with those infected. A total of 8,420 people are under medical observation.
A netizen uploaded video footage of the quarantine area at a hospital in Wuhan and described the situation as “biohazard.” Other footage showed a lot of people queuing up for medical treatment at a hospital in the city. Medical staff were seen shouting at people.
On Thursday evening, the Health Commission in Guangdong province started implementing public health emergency action level-I requirements and said “a new round of battles had begun.”
The southern China province, which saw 32 confirmed cases with 12 patients in a serious condition and three in a critical condition, became the first province to announce the measures.
Like many other countries, China categorizes its public incidents into four emergency action levels – level-I (very major), level-II (major), level-III (relatively major) and level-IV (ordinary). A level-I incident usually refers to a case involving the death of 30 people, the serious injury of 100 people or the evaluation of more than 50,000 people.
Early this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged all government departments to take effective measures to stop the spread of the virus, which has appeared in some major Chinese cities and other Asian countries.
In the middle of the week, the Hubei provincial government launched the emergency action level-II requirements involving local management, quarantine, social security prevention and control, epidemic reports, resource supplies and social stability systems.
Wuhan city has taken a series of measures to prevent the coronavirus spreading to other cities, Mayor Zhou told Xinhua in an interview published this week.
“Wuhan is preventing the disease from spreading domestically and exporting,” Zhou said. Wuhan is a major transportation hub with a local population of nine million plus five million migrants, while the people flow of 30 million to Wuhan during the Lunar New Year would create challenges to the city’s epidemic prevention,” he said.
People with body temperatures higher than 37.3°C would not be allowed to leave the city, regardless of whether they were traveling by plane, train, ship or private vehicles, he said, adding that the so-called “city shutdown” did not mean a ban on people flowing in and out of the city.
However, on Thursday morning Wuhan authorities were ordered by the Hubei provincial government to shut down all public transport services by 10 am that day.
All party leaders in Wuhan should stay in the city and strictly implement a rotation system to fight against the disease, Ma said. The city government should ensure the water, electricity, gas supplies and telecommunication services operated as normal, he said.
Huang Mouhong, the Deputy Director of the Hubei Provincial Commerce Department, was identified as the first Chinese official to be infected by the Wuhan disease on Thursday. Huang visited some rural families in Zhijiang in the province last Friday and felt sick on Sunday.
He was diagnosed with pneumonia on Tuesday and was in a stable condition and his body temperature was 37.2°C.
Prior to the shutdown of Wuhan, a total of 300,000 people had left the city by train in Wuhan, Hankou and Wuchang stations on Wednesday, according to the China Railway Wuhan Group.
While the Chinese government officially called the Wuhan disease “novel coronavirus” and Hong Kong’s Center of Health Protection named it a “severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent,” some netizens and media labeled the disease with an ironic term – Wuhan Acute Respiratory Syndrome (WARS), modeled on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Seven other cities in Hubei province – Ezhou, Huanggang, Chibi, Xiantao, Zhijiang, Lichuan and Qianjiang – on Thursday shut down their public transport services and forbid people from leaving the cities freely. In Wuhan and Huanggang, people were required to wear masks in public areas under a newly-launched mask law.
– Additional reporting AFP