More than 540 people have been sickened and 17 have died since the start of the month, according to an NBC News analysis of data collected from China’s National Health Commission, province and city health departments, China Central Television, and the People’s Daily. China Central Television is a government-run station and People’s Daily is Communist Party-run.
While most of the cases and all of the deaths have occurred in China, officials fear that this week’s busy travel season, in advance of Saturday’s Lunar New Year, could accelerate the virus’ spread.
The Chinese government, which is looking to avoid a repeat of the 2003 SARS outbreak, has warned officials not to cover up the spread of the virus. The South China Morning Post reported Tuesday that Beijing said anyone who withheld information would be “the sinner of a millennium to the party and the people” and would be “nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity.”