BEIJING (AP) – China sent medical workers and equipment to a newly built hospital, infused cash into financial markets and further restricted people’s movement in sweeping new steps yesterday to contain a rapidly spreading virus and its escalating impact.
China’s updated figures of 361 deaths and 2,829 new cases over the last 24 hours, bringing the Chinese total to 17,205 cases, come as other countries continued evacuating citizens from hardest-hit Hubei province and restricted travel by Chinese or people who recently travelled in the country.
The World Health Organization said the number of cases will keep growing because tests are pending on thousands of suspected cases.
Reopening of schools was also delayed to keep the virus from spreading further in Hubei, where the 1,000-bed hospital in the provincial capital Wuhan was completed in just 10 days. A second hospital with 1,500 beds will open within days. Restrictions were tightened still further in one city by allowing only one family member to venture out to buy supplies every other day.
Medical teams from the People’s Liberation Army were arriving in Wuhan to relieve overwhelmed health workers and to work at the new hospital, located in the countryside far from the city centre. Its prefabricated wards, where patients began arriving by late morning, are equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment and ventilation systems.
Leading Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan said additional hospital space was crucial to stopping the spread of new infections.
“The lack of hospital rooms forced sick people to return home, which is extremely dangerous. So having additional (beds) available is a great improvement,” Zhong told state broadcaster CCTV.
Zhong played a major role in overcoming China’s 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, a coronavirus from the same family as the current pathogen.
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, announced yesterday that the semi-autonomous territory will shut almost all land and sea border control points to the mainland from midnight to stem the spread of the virus.
She said only two border checkpoints – at Shenzhen Bay and the bridge to Macau and Zhuhai – will remain open. Some hospital workers went on strike yesterday and more threatened to walk out today unless the government agrees to talks.
Hong Kong has recorded 15 cases of the virus and has cut flights and train and bus connections to the mainland, but a push is growing for it to close the border completely.
Strike organisers said about 6,000 medical staff were prepared to participate. Hong Kong was severely impacted by the SARS outbreak, which many believe was intensified by official Chinese secrecy and obfuscation.
An international cruise ship industry group said its members will ban anyone, including guests or crew, who has travelled from or through mainland China in the previous 14 days, the maximum incubation period for the virus.
The Cruise Lines International Association said it represents more than 50 cruise lines and is the world’s largest cruise industry trade association.
South Korea, which has 15 confirmed cases, was quarantining 800 soldiers who had recently visited mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao or had contact with people who had the disease, Defence Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo said.