More Chinese cities shut down as virus death toll rises

HANGZHOU, CHINA (AFP) – Millions more people have been ordered to stay indoors as China battles to curb the spread of a new virus that authorities said yesterday has already killed nearly 500 people.

With more than 24,000 cases in China, a growing number of cities have been imposing a range of restrictions in recent days far from central Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, as authorities struggle to contain the virus.

Global concerns have risen as cases continue to spread abroad, with 10 people testing positive for the virus on a ship quarantined off the coast of Japan.

Italy announced that passengers from every international flight would be scanned for fevers.

Vietnam, which has detected 10 cases, joined a growing list of countries banning arrivals from China, and it was setting up field hospitals with thousands of beds to handle a potential spike in coronavirus patients in the country.

A man rides a bike along a street in Hangzhou, Shanghai. More Chinese cities hunkered down by fencing off streets ordered to stay home as the death toll from the new coronavirus soared to nearly 500 yesterday. PHOTO: AFP
A woman walks along a street in Hangzhou, southwest of Shanghai. PHOTO: AFP

And Hong Kong, which reported its first coronavirus death this week, said anyone arriving from the mainland will face a mandatory two-week quarantine from Saturday.

In Hangzhou, some 175 kilometres southwest of Shanghai, fences blocked streets near the headquarters of Chinese tech giant Alibaba – one of the world’s most valuable companies – as a fighter jet circled overhead.

The building appeared to be shut down, while deliverymen moved in and out of nearby fenced-in residential areas to drop off groceries. Many people were also seen going out.

The firm is based in one of three Hangzhou districts subject to new restrictions that allow only one person per household to go outside every two days to buy necessities.

“Please don’t go out, don’t go out, don’t go out!” blared a message on a loudspeaker urging people to wear masks, wash their hands regularly and report any people who are from Hubei – reflecting a common fear that people from the province might infect others.

At least three other cities in Zhejiang province – Taizhou, Wenzhou and parts of Ningbo – have imposed the same measures, affecting 18 million people.

Similar restrictions have been put in place as far away as Heilongjiang province on the Russia border, and in the central city of Zhumadian authorities said one person would be allowed to leave each household only every five days. Residents of the city of seven million were also offered cash rewards for informing on people from neighbouring Hubei who were in the city.

The disease is believed to have emerged in December in a Wuhan market that sold wild animals, and spread rapidly as people travelled for the Lunar New Year holiday in January.

The Ministry of Public Security said “political security” was the “top priority” in confronting the epidemic.

“We should take strict precautions against and crack down on all kinds of disruptive activities by hostile forces,” ministry secretary Zhao Kezhi said in a briefing.

“The statement came days after the top leadership admitted “shortcomings” in its handling of the outbreak, for which authorities have been criticised for withholding information.