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China Expands Lockdowns Amid Virus     01/24 06:38

   BEIJING (AP) -- China announced Friday that it is swiftly building a 
1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with a new virus that has 
killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of 
cities during the country's most important holiday.

   On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down in at least 
13 cities home to more than 36 million people.  The cities are Wuhan, where the 
illness has been concentrated, and nine of its neighbors in central China's 
Hubei province. 

   "To address the insufficiency of existing medical resources," Wuhan is 
constructing a hospital modeled after the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in 
Beijing, Wuhan authorities said in a Friday notice. The facility will be a 
prefabricated structure on a 25,000- square-meter (270,000-square-foot) lot, 
slated for completion Feb. 3. 

   The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat 
an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China to more 
than a dozen countries and killed about 800 people. The hospital featured 
individual isolation units that looked like rows of tiny cabins.

   Normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet 
in Wuhan on the second day of its lockdown. Masks were mandatory in public, and 
images from the city showed empty store shelves as people stocked up for what 
could be an extended isolation. Train stations, the airport and subways were 
closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.

   Hospitals in Wuhan were grappling with a flood of patients and a lack of 
supplies. Videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks 
lined up for checks. Some users on the Weibo social media site said their 
family members had sought diagnoses but were turned away at hospitals that were 
at capacity.

   At least eight hospitals in Wuhan issued public calls for donations of 
masks, goggles, gowns and other protective medical gear, according to notices 
online. Administrators at Wuhan University People's Hospital set up a group 
chat on the popular WeChat messaging app to coordinate donations.

   The "Fever Control Command Center" of the city of Huanggang also put out a 
call for donations publicized by the state-run People's Daily, asking for 
medical supplies, medicine and disinfection equipment. The notice added that at 
the moment they wouldn't accept supplies from foreign countries.

   Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, 
Beijing, major public events were canceled, including traditional temple fairs 
that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations. Beijing's Forbidden City, 
Shanghai Disneyland and a slew of other tourist attractions have been closed 
indefinitely.

   The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the 
National Health Commission said. Twenty-six people have died, including the 
first two deaths outside Hubei and the youngest recorded victim.

   The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said 
an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to 
see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there 
but did not give details. 

   While the majority of deaths have been older patients, a 36-year-old man in 
Hubei was admitted to the hospital earlier this month after suffering from 
fever for three days. He died following a sudden cardiac arrest on Jan. 23. 

   Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, 
including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can 
worsen to pneumonia. The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as 
viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as SARS and Middle Eastern 
respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels. 
The Wuhan outbreak is suspected to have begun from wild animals sold at a food 
market in the city. The market is closed for investigation.

   The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan, but people who 
visited or had personal connections to infected people were among the scattered 
cases counted beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their 
second cases Friday and Singapore confirmed its third. Cases have been detected 
in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand and Vietnam. 

   Many countries are screening travelers from China and isolating anyone with 
symptoms.

   The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a 
global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a 
threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision 
politically fraught.

   Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will 
last. While sweeping measures are typical of China's Communist Party-led 
government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly 
epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people's liberties.

   Recalling the government's initial cover-up of SARS, many Chinese are 
suspicious of the case numbers reported by officials. Authorities in turn have 
been keen to pledge transparency. China's cabinet, the State Council, announced 
Friday that it will be collecting information on government departments that 
have failed in their response to the new outbreak, including "delays, 
concealment and under-reporting of the epidemic."

   Across China, a slew of cancellations and closures dampened the usual 
liveliness of Lunar New Year.

   One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks 
at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in 
full-body hazardous material suits.

   Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of 
Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will 
also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancellations. 


(KR)

 
 
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