Residents of China’s Hubei province, where the new coronavirus outbreak was first reported, will be banned from entering Hong Kong from Monday as China tries to halt the rapid spread of the outbreak.
China’s Cabinet also announced it will extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days to Feb. 2 and schools will return from their break later than usual, state broadcaster CCTV said.
Health authorities around the world are racing to prevent a pandemic of the virus, which has infected more than 2,000 people in China and killed 56.
A handful of cases of infection have been reported in other countries, including Thailand, Australia, the United States, France, and Canada. No fatalities have been recorded outside China.
The mayor of Wuhan, which is the capital of Hubei province and at the epicenter of the outbreak, said he expected another 1,000 new patients in the city, which was stepping up construction of special hospitals.
The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because much about it is still unknown, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
China’s National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said the incubation period for the virus can range from one to 14 days, during which infection can occur.
The Lunar New Year holiday, traditionally celebrated by hundreds of millions of Chinese traveling around the country and abroad to see family, began on Friday but has been severely disrupted by the outbreak.
Ma said China would intensify its containment efforts, which have so far included transport and travel curbs and cancellation of big events.
The virus, believed to have originated late last year in a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife, has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai.
Alibaba’s Taobao online marketplace said it has removed sales of face masks from shops that show “unstable prices or false advertising”, as prices for the products surged.
The World Health Organization this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health experts question whether China can contain the epidemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was on his way to Beijing to meet officials and health experts dealing with the coronavirus.
Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which has six confirmed cases, will also ban entry from Monday to people who have visited Hubei province in the past 14 days, the city’s government said. The rule does not apply to Hong Kong residents.
Hubei’s governor, Wang Xiaodong, said on Sunday he felt “agonized” and responsible for the outbreak. He described the situation as severe and said medical supplies were still tight.
China confirmed 2,051 cases of infection as of 7 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Jan. 26, while the death toll from the virus remained at 56, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of these efforts.
Health officials in Orange County, California, said a third case had been registered in the United States in a traveler from Wuhan, who was in isolation and in good condition.