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26.01.2020 Europe

China puts travel bans in place to contain coronavirus as death toll rises

By RFI
cnsphoto via REUTERS
LISTEN JAN 26, 2020

China has expanded travel restrictions to contain a viral contagion that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000, as the United States and France prepare to evacuate their citizens from a quarantined city at the outbreak's epicentre.

China has locked down the worst-hit province of Hubei in the country's centre in a massive quarantine affecting tens of millions of people to slow the spread of a respiratory illness that has killed 56 people and infected almost 2,000.

Fearing a repeat of the deadly SARS epidemic of 2002-03, the country has dramatically scaled back celebrations and travel associated with the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, which began on Friday, to prevent large gatherings of people.

United States concerned for nationals in China

The virus, whose symptoms are similar to the flu, has also spread around the world, with cases confirmed in around a dozen other countries as distant as France, Australia and the United States.

The United States announced on Sunday it would organise flights to evacuate diplmoatic personnel and other nationals from the area with a direct flight to San Francisco early next week.

Japan also announced on Sunday that it will evacuate all its nationals from China's quarantined city of Wuhan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday.

"We have decided to send back all (Japanese citizens in Wuhan) to Japan if they wish so, by every means including a chartered flight," Abe told reporters.

Philippe Klein, a French doctor at the International Clinic in Wuhan told France Info that the community of French expats are "fearful of the spread of the virus" and are "respecting the Chinese authorities instructions to stay indoors and avoid outside contact where possible."

Restrictions for cars in Wuhan
In the epicentre city of Wuhan, Hubei's capital, new restrictions went into effect Sunday banning most cars from the streets of the metropolis of 11 million.

China announced a ban on the temporary sale of bushmeat through which the virus may have been transmitted to humans.

Final findings are yet to be announced, but Chinese health officials believe the virus came from wildlife sold illegally at a market in Wuhan.

Authorities have also started to curtail travel in other parts of the country.

Long-distance bus services entering and leaving Beijing, the capital of 20 million, were suspended on Sunday.

First death recorded in Shanghai
The neighbouring northern city of Tianjin, with a population 15 million, announced it would follow suit on Monday.

Overseas Chinese tour groups will be suspended from Monday while domestic trips have already been halted since Friday.

Shanghai on Sunday reported its first death from the virus -- an 88-year-old man with pre-existing health problems.

The government has said most of the fatalities involved people already weakened by pre-existing health conditions.

Hong Kong closes funparks
On Saturday, Hong Kong classified the outbreak as an "emergency" -- the city's highest warning tier -- and announced ramped-up measures to reduce the risk of further infections.

Hong Kong's Disneyland announced it was shutting its doors on Sunday.

Ocean Park, a rival amusement park on Hong Kong's main island, said it was also closing its doors.

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