Authorities in China have imposed severe travel restrictions on 18 cities in and around Hubei province, including the city of Wuhan where the new coronavirus originated and killed at least 15 people on Friday alone.
As the virus spreads around the world, at least three infections have been identified in the United States — the most recent being one person in Orange County, California — while 63 more potential cases remain under investigation.
On Saturday night, the total death toll in China was reported to be 56, including a 62-year-old doctor who died from the virus while treating patients in Wuhan. Hundreds of new cases have also been reported over the weekend.
Wuhan is also home to China’s only known biological warfare lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has led to speculation that the virus might have originated in that facility, Bill Gertz of The Washington Times reported.
Nearly all flights to and from the airport in Wuhan have been canceled and other checkpoints blocked while transport restrictions remain on almost the entire province of Hubei, where 59 million people live, according to Reuters.
At least 1,975 confirmed cases have been reported in China, the National Health Commission revealed Saturday. The virus, which can lead to respiratory illnesses and can be deadly in some cases, has spread to other countries in Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal and Malaysia, as well as to Europe, the U.S., Australia and Canada, according to reports from these regions.
The U.S. plans to evacuate some 1,000 American citizens from Wuhan this week, The Wall Street Journal reports.
While videos posted on social media showed chaos in many hospitals in affected areas, the government announced Friday it will construct a 1,000-bed facility in 10 days to deal with the outbreak of the virus.
Many celebrations planned for Saturday to mark the Lunar New Year in Beijing and other cities in China were canceled.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that 63 people from 22 states were being tested for the virus even as a second confirmed case from the U.S. was reported from Chicago. Only 11 had been tested negative as of Saturday morning.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, was quoted by USA Today as saying that a 60-year-old Chicago woman tested positive about 10 days after she returned from Wuhan. She has been placed in isolation in a hospital but is “clinically doing well and in stable condition.”
The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. is likely to go up, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said. However, she indicated there was no reason to panic as the risk to the U.S. public remained low.
In the United Kingdom, 31 people had been tested negative for the virus while “a handful” of new cases were being looked at, according to The Telegraph, which quoted an expert at Public Health England as saying that the chances of the illness reaching the country were “high.”
Three patients have been identified in France, and one in Australia. Canada confirmed its first case Friday night.
The medical journal The Lancet said in an article based on a study that affected patients “were geographically linked with a local wet market as a potential source,” as game animals and meat are sold there.
The study “shows this new coronavirus is able to transfer between person to person, in a hospital setting, a family home setting, and also in an inter-city setting,” Yuen Kwok-yung, one of the study’s authors, told The New York Times. “This is exactly what makes this new disease difficult to control.”