The spread of the deadly coronavirus is accelerating, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned, after holding a special government meeting on the Lunar New Year public holiday.
China is facing a “grave situation” President Xi told senior officials.
The new virus has killed at least 56 people and infected almost 2,000 since its discovery in the city of Wuhan.
Meanwhile, the US has announced that staff at the Wuhan consulate will be evacuated on a special flight on January 28.
According to the State Department, private Americans most at risk will also be able to board the flight to San Francisco.
Meanwhile, UK-based researchers have warned of a real possibility that China will not be able to contain the virus.
Travel restrictions have come in place in several affected cities. From January 26, private vehicles will be banned from central districts of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak.
According to Chinese state newspaper the People’s Daily, a second emergency hospital is to be built there within weeks to handle 1,300 new patients, and will be finished in half a month. It is the second such rapid construction project: work on another 1,000-bed hospital has already begun.
Specialist military medical teams have also been flown into Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.
The urgency reflects concern both within China and elsewhere about the virus which first appeared in December.
Lunar New Year celebrations for the year of the rat, which began on January 25, have been canceled in many Chinese cities.
Across mainland China, travelers are having their temperatures checked for signs of fever, and train stations have been shut in several cities.
Hong Kong has declared the highest level of emergency and school holidays were extended.
Several other nations are each dealing with a handful of cases, with patients being treated in isolation.
A coronavirus is a family of viruses which include the common cold.
However, this virus has never been seen before. It is called 2019-nCov, for “novel coronavirus”.
New viruses can become common in humans after jumping across the species barrier from animals.
The SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] outbreak of 2003 started in bats and transferred to the civet cat which passed it on to humans.
This new Chinese virus also causes severe acute respiratory infection.
Symptoms seem to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough and then, after a week, lead to shortness of breath and some patients needing hospital treatment.
There is no specific cure or vaccine.
Based on early information, it is believed that only a quarter of infected cases are “severe”, and the dead are mostly – though not exclusively – older people, some of whom have pre-existing conditions.
The Chinese authorities suspect a seafood market that “conducted illegal transactions of wild animals” was the source of the outbreak.