China coronavirus death toll climbs to 80 as government scrambles to contain outbreak

The death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak in China rose to 80 Monday as the government, scrambling to contain the epidemic, extended the Lunar New Year holiday to try and stop people from traveling.

The death toll stood at 56 on Sunday, according to health officials who have warned that the spread of the virus was accelerating.

Officials with China’s National Health Commission said there were 2,744 confirmed cases — up from 1,975 — of which 461 are considered severe. Officials are also investigating 5,794 suspected cases and tracking over 32,000 close contacts with infected patients.

Health officials in the capital, Beijing, said Sunday that the youngest patient was just nine months old.

Workers wearing protective clothing disinfect a residential area in Ruichang, in China’s central Jiangxi province.AFP – Getty Images

Cases of the virus have been reported on four continents, including in the U.S. where the fifth case was confirmed Sunday. All of the U.S. cases are patients who have recently traveled from Wuhan.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said they expected many more cases in the coming days, likely including person-to-person spread; but said that the immediate risk to the U.S. general public is low.

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No deaths have been reported outside China.

The city of Wuhan in Hubei province, the epicenter of outbreak, was still on lockdown with more than a dozen neighboring cities facing similar severe transport restrictions to help stop the spread of the virus.

Health officials are asking anyone who had traveled to Wuhan or other affected areas recently to register and quarantine themselves for 14 days.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong, which has had eight confirmed cases, has barred residents of Hubei province and anyone who visited the area in the past 14 days from entering the city.

John McGory, a teacher at Jianghan University in Wuhan, told NBC News over the weekend that the city felt “like The Twilight Zone” as the lockdown continued.

“Today, I went out to get some bottled water and there’s absolutely nobody on the streets. And this is a city of 11 million people,” McGory, 65, said.

The limitations on movement for millions of people come amid one of the busiest times of the year for travel — Chinese Lunar New Year. Chinese officials extended the week-long holiday until to Feb. 2 to reduce mass gatherings and slow down the spread of the virus.

Local authorities in Wuhan have also announced they were suspending all passport and visa services for Chinese citizens until at least Jan. 30 to help control the virus.

Chinese health officials have warned that people who are carrying the virus but not showing any symptoms may still be contagious, which could complicate early detection and isolation efforts.

The State Department has said it would evacuate its personnel and some private U.S. citizens on a plane departing from Wuhan to San Francisco Tuesday.

Other countries, including France, Australia, Spain, Iraq and Japan, are also looking into moving their citizens out of the city.

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is due to hold a special meeting with officials in Beijing Monday to discuss how to contain the virus. The WHO officials ruled last week that the outbreak did not yet constitute a global health emergency.

Reuters reported Monday that China has allocated nearly $9 billion to help contain the virus.

Over the weekend, President Xi Jinping said the country was facing a “grave situation.”

State media reported that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Wuhan Monday. The senior official has been “entrusted” personally by Xi to visit the city and inspect the ongoing efforts to contain the epidemic.

Yuliya Talmazan reported from London; Eric Baculinao from Manila; Leou Chen from Shenzhen.