A deadly viral outbreak in China has now killed 41 people, while the number of infected cases has soared to nearly 1,300, authorities said on Saturday.
The 15 new deaths all took place in Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the deadly respiratory contagion first emerged, the Hubei Health Commission said.
At least 444 new cases of the virus have been found, raising the total number to 1,287, the National Health Commission said in a separate statement.
The disease has spread to 30 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.
Some 56 million people are now affected by transport bans around the epicentre of China’s virus outbreak as five more cities announced travel restrictions on Saturday to contain the disease.
The rules include closing public transport links and access to highways in the cities, local authorities said.
A total of 18 cities now have some sort of travel restrictions in central Hubei province.
The Hubei 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. There are now 729 cases in Hubei alone.
Several of those cities were reporting their first cases of the pathogen — 2019 Novel Coronavirus — the commission said.
China government has deployed 450 military medical staff, some with experience combating SARS or Ebola, to a central city stricken by a virus that has killed dozens of people, state media said.
The medics, who arrived in Wuhan on military aircraft late Friday, will be dispatched to hospitals with large numbers of infected patients, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The move marks a dramatic escalation in the central government’s involvement to contain the virus.
It also follows reports of bed shortages in hospitals designated to deal with the outbreak in Wuhan, which has borne the brunt of the health emergency.
The government has even started construction on a special hospital in Wuhan to deal with the virus, with plans to finish it within a staggering 10 days.
Xinhua said the military team is composed of experts in respiratory health, infectious diseases, hospital infection control and intensive care.
In a sign Wuhan authorities are feeling the pressure, Hubei governor Jiang Chaoliang said in a meeting Friday that Wuhan must ‘make every effort’ to increase isolation places and beds.
Hospitals must also make sure patients are ‘admitted in time,’ according to a statement on the government’s website.
Meanwhile, Australia on Saturday confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus.
The sick man arrived in Melbourne from China a week ago from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, the government said.
Authorities in Victoria state have followed ‘strict protocols, including isolating the affected person,’ said Professor Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical officer.
‘I understand the patient has pneumonia and is in a stable condition.’
Health experts say some human-to-human transmission has been recorded, particularly in Wuhan, a city of 11 million now under lockdown in a bid to limit the spread of the disease.
Australian health minister Greg Hunt said passengers who travelled on the same Melbourne-bound plane as the infected man were being contacted ‘to provide them with information and advice’.
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 travelling across the country or overseas to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s most important festiva
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