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
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
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
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
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.
Hundreds of millions of people are celebrating Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, the most important annual holiday in much of Asia.
New Year began in China at midnight, with firework displays and family gatherings.
It marked the opening of the year of the snake, taking over from the dragon.
In China, an estimated 200 million people have travelled to be with their families in what is considered the biggest mass human migration on Earth.
The holiday will continue throughout the week, with government offices and businesses shut down.
The snake has a mixed reputation in China. It is associated with wisdom, beauty and intelligence but also pride and anger.
Residents of Beijing braved freezing temperatures on Saturday night to let off fireworks, which are believed to ward off evil spirits.
However, the displays in the capital were reportedly more muted than in previous years, starting later at night than usual and ending earlier on Sunday morning.
The city authorities had asked people to set off fewer fireworks because of dangerous levels of air pollution and a high number of smoggy days during the past month.
There was a sharp reduction in the sale of fireworks in the city, with 260,000 boxes purchased in the five days leading up to the new year, a 37% drop compared with last year, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Hundreds of millions of people are celebrating Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, the most important annual holiday in much of Asia
City environmental bureau readings showed 2.5 microgram pollution levels well above the 200 mark in most parts of the city at midday on Sunday, but these were well below the readings of 700 seen in January. Last year’s fireworks sent pollution levels as high as 1,500.
Saturday evening also saw an anticipated 700 million people watch state television’s annual TV gala, a variety performance show in which Celine Dion sang her theme tune from the movie Titanic.
According to one well-known Chinese songwriter, My Heart Will Go On is one of two English songs that are well known in China. The other is Happy Birthday.
The gala’s producers were ordered to make the show a more low-key affair, in the wake of the new leadership’s recent crackdown on corruption and official extravagance.
Before Saturday’s celebrations began, Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, who will become president in March, paid a visit to subway construction workers in Beijing to thank them for their service.
“Migrant workers have been the labor force behind China’s reform and opening up… so we must look after you properly,” he said.
“I hope the construction firm has organized some new year entertainment for you so you can have a happy holiday.”
Premier Wen Jiabao, who steps down in March, meanwhile celebrated the evening with victims of earthquakes and landslides in western China, state TV reported.
In Taiwan, President Ma Ying-jeou handed out traditional red envelopes containing money – in this case one Taiwanese dollar ($0.03) – to people at a temple in Taipei.
Fireworks were also let off in Sydney.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard wished the 900,000 Australians of Chinese descent a “healthy and prosperous Year of the Snake” on Twitter.
Chinese New Year falls on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar
There are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac: the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the ram, the monkey, the rooster, the dog and the pig
Exact origins of the Chinese zodiac are unknown, but common folklore has it that these are the 12 animals to reach Heaven in a race
Recent nake years are 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989 and 2001
Millions of people across the world are preparing to celebrate Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, the most important annual holiday in much of Asia.
Chinese New Year begins on Sunday, when the new moon is seen in the sky.
In the Chinese zodiac, this year will be the year of the snake, taking over from the dragon of 2012.
In China, an estimated 200 million people are travelling to be with their families in what is considered the biggest mass human migration on Earth.
Vast crowds of people have passed through railway stations, airports and bus stations onto crowded transport, many of them making journeys of thousands of miles, sometimes lasting several days.
Migrant workers in China often only have one holiday a year in which to visit their home towns, and will be taking the money they have saved back to their families.
“For Chinese, the most important thing is to be with family. Family always comes first,” Jin Yuan, a 34-year-old worker in Beijing told Reuters.
“No matter how busy I am, I must go home. That is why so many people in Beijing are travelling home for the Lunar New Year.”
Vietnamese media said tens of thousands of people were also on the move there.
Markets and shops across the region have been selling red and gold decorations – colors considered lucky – for the past few weeks, bearing messages wishing good fortune and prosperity.
Chinese New Year begins on Sunday, when the new moon is seen in the sky
“Tet is an important event and the house must be decorated,” said Dam Duc Thong, a shopper in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, using the Vietnamese name for the holiday.
“I buy these ornaments with hope to bring good luck to my family.”
Traditional foods associated with long life or good luck are a key part of lunar new year festivities.
“I’m slicing the rice cake so that people can make rice noodle soup during the holidays,” said Oh Jung-sook, a 72-year-old rice cake seller in the South Korean capital, Seoul.
“People say that eating rice noodle soup can keep them healthy, age one more year and have no unfortunate events for the family throughout the year.”
The new year is traditionally brought in with fireworks and firecrackers, but residents of Beijing have been asked to set off fewer this year, in an attempt to minimize additional pollution in the frequently smog-bound city.
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