As the U.S. closed its consulate in Wuhan and prepared to extract all its diplomats, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Saturday of a “grave situation” in the rapid spread of the coronavirus that has claimed 56 lives.
The virus, which broke out in Wuhan last month, has infected at least 1,975 people in at least 29 provinces and cities and killed 56 people in China, according to the National Health Commission.
The figures reported Sunday morning cover the previous 24 hours and mark an increase of 15 deaths and 688 cases.
The government also reported five cases in Hong Kong, two in Macao and three in Taiwan. Small numbers of cases have been found in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France and Australia.
Among the victims is Liang Wudong, a 62-year-old doctor at Hubei Xinhua Hospital who died Saturday after treating patients in Wuhan, according to the state-run Global Television Network.
A hospital in Toronto confirmed Saturday that it is treating a patient with the deadly virus, Canada’s first.
A second case in the U.S. was confirmed Friday in Chicago, along with three cases in France. There have been no deaths outside of China.
The U.S. State Department arranged a charter flight for Tuesday to bring out all its diplomats and other U.S. citizens after temporarily closing the Wuhan consulate, the Associated Press reported. A notice Sunday from the embassy in Beijing said there would be limited capacity to transport U.S. citizens on the flight that will proceed directly to San Francisco.
The reports followed a State Department notice on its website that all essential personnel had been ordered to leave the city of 11 million.
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Xi addressed the issue Saturday at a special Communist party meeting where he called for stepped up moves to tackle the accelerating crisis.
“Confronted with the grave situation of this accelerating spread of pneumonia from infections with the novel coronavirus, we must step up the centralized and united leadership under the party central” leadership, Xi said.
A report issued from the meeting said that Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, “must make containment and control of the epidemic its top most priority, adopting even stricter measures to prevent it expanding within and spreading outward.”
China has already halted all train, plane and other transportation links to the city, which has ordered a ban on all downtown vehicle traffic beginning at midnight Saturday, state media reported.
Only authorized vehicles to carry supplies and for other needs would be permitted after that, the reports said.
The city said it will assign 6,000 taxis to different neighborhoods, under the management of local resident committees, to help people get around if they need to, the state-owned English-language China Daily newspaper said.
Elsewhere, the latest U.S. victim, a Chicago woman, returned Jan. 13 from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and began experiencing symptoms a few days after arriving home, said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The 60-year-old woman called her doctor after symptoms arose. She was treated at St. Alexius in Hoffman Estates and placed in isolation, health officials said. Further testing confirmed the virus.
Arwady said the woman is “clinically doing well and in stable condition.” She did not have extended contact with anyone outside of her home, attend a large public gathering or use public transportation, Arwady said.
The woman was not symptomatic while flying, and Arwady told reporters at a Chicago news conference on Friday, “The CDC does not believe that, in the time before symptoms develop, the patients are able to be contagious.”
In Paris, the lead doctor treating two hospital patients for the new virus said Saturday that the illness appears less serious than comparable outbreaks of the past and that the chance of a European epidemic appears weak at this stage.
French officials on Friday reported three confirmed cases of the newly identified coronavirus in France, the first ones in Europe. The third patient is at a hospital in Bordeaux.
Dr. Yazdan Yazdanpaneh, a leading French expert who heads Bichat’s infectious diseases unit, said that cases imported from China were “not a surprise” and that France had prepared, including by developing a test that provides rapid results for suspected cases.
While most cases have centered in China, an increasing number of cases have been confirmed in other places, including South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Australia and Malaysia reported their first cases Saturday and Japan reported its third.
As the crisis increased, local Chinese authorities rushed to build a 1,000-bed hospital in six days to treat the growing number of patients. Authorities announced Saturday that 658 patients were being treated for the virus and 57 were critically ill, Reuters reports.
The state-run Global Television Network reported Saturday that the health commission was sending six groups of 1,230 medical staff to Wuhan, In addition, 450 military doctors, some with experience fighting the SARS and Ebola viruses, were sent to the city Friday.
The Xinhua news agency reported that additional medical supplies were being rushed to the city, including 14,000 protective suits and 110,000 pairs of gloves from the central medical reserves as well as masks and goggles.
The virus has caused major public upheaval, with the government shutting down public transportation for roughly 36 million people in 13 cities in central China and major cities canceling events tied to the Lunar New Year celebration, a busy time for travel.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said all direct flights and trains form Wuhan would be blocked and that all schools would be closed in the city until Feb. 17.
Beijing’s Forbidden City, Shanghai Disneyland and sections of the Great Wall have also closed.
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What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to pneumonia. Common signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.
Health officials said the virus, which probably spreads through tiny droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, is low-risk. Officials urged people to take the usual cold and flu season precaution: frequent hand washing, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing and staying home when you don’t feel well.
“These illnesses can pop up anywhere,” said Trish Perl, chief of infectious diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “This is a dynamic situation that can dramatically change from day to day.”
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Many of the initial cases were linked to a seafood and meat market in Wuhan. Chinese health officials, which first reported the cases last month, said human-to-human transmission has been confirmed.
Contributing: Ryan Miller, Grace Hauck, Nicholas Wu, John Bacon, Ken Alltucker and Lindsay Schnell, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.