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China warns of ‘grave’ situation as it rushes to build hospitals; toll hits 41

China warns of ‘grave’ situation as it rushes to build hospitals; toll hits 41

AFP
Wuhan, China
President Xi Jinping warned on Saturday that China was facing a “grave” situation as authorities took more drastic steps to halt the spread of a virus that has killed 41 people and is overwhelming hospitals at the epicentre of the health emergency.
The world’s most populous country scrambled to contain the disease that has already infected nearly 1,300 people, building a second field hospital to relieve overwhelmed medical facilities and closing more travel routes as the country marked the Lunar New Year holiday.
After more countries reported cases, Xi said at a Communist Party leadership meeting on the disease that China was “faced with the grave situation of an accelerating spread of the new coronavirus” but that the country will “definitely be able to win the battle,” according to state media.
The country’s most important celebration has been all but cancelled for at least 56 million people in Hubei province as authorities expanded transport bans to 17 other cities around Wuhan to try and contain the spread of the virus.
In Wuhan, the epicentre of the emergency, 450 military medics were deployed to help treat patients in Hubei’s capital city, where a seafood and live animal market has been identified as the centre of the outbreak.
On Saturday, when they should have been celebrating the New Year, people waiting at one hospital in the city were angry and frustrated.
“It takes at least five hours to see a doctor,” one woman, who didn’t want to be named, said. One man in his 30s said some people had to queue for two days. Many people had brought their own chairs for the wait.
Wuhan authorities will race to build the second makeshift hospital within a fortnight, state media reported, adding 1,300 new beds.
They already started work on Friday on a new field hospital, which state media said could be ready in just over a week. The two hospitals would be similar in size to the temporary facility that was built to tackle SARS in Beijing in 2003, when 650 people died from the disease in the mainland and Hong Kong.
The army medics, who arrived on military aircraft late Friday, include doctors with experience combating SARS or Ebola and will be dispatched to hospitals that are reportedly short on beds due to a crush of infected patients and worried locals.
The virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
The new virus has now infected people nationwide and in nearly a dozen other countries, with France saying three cases were confirmed there -- the first known European infections.
On the eastern outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, police manning a roadblock turned away a handful of vehicles trying to exit the city.
“Nobody can leave,” an officer told AFP. But the police allowed some medical workers who had gone home for the holidays to re-enter the city to help at crowded hospitals.

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