World

China opens virus hospital; market plunges as toll grows

HONG KONG, CHINA - FEBRUARY 03: Medical workers hold a strike near Queen Mary Hospital to demand the government shut the city's border with China to reduce the spread of the coronavirus on February 3, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong has 15 confirmed cases of Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), with over 17,000 confirmed cases around the world, the virus has so far claimed over 300 lives. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Medical workers held a strike near Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong Monday to demand the government shut the city's border with China to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

BEIJING — China opened a new hospital built in 10 days, infused cash into its tumbling financial markets, and further restricted people’s movement in sweeping new steps Monday to contain a rapidly spreading virus and its escalating impact.

Japanese officials, meanwhile, were deciding whether to quarantine more than 3,000 people on a cruise ship that carried a passenger who tested positive for the virus.

Chinese health authorities reported 425 deaths and 20,438 confirmed cases, as other countries continued evacuating citizens from hardest-hit Hubei province and restricted the entry of Chinese or people who recently traveled to the country. Outside mainland China, at least 180 cases have been confirmed, including one fatality, in the Philippines.

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In the United States, as of Monday afternoon, 11 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in five states, and officials were awaiting test results on dozens more possible cases.

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The World Health Organization said the number of cases will keep growing because tests are pending on thousands of suspected cases.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, presiding over a special meeting of the country’s top Communist Party body for the second time since the crisis started, said “we have launched a people’s war of prevention of the epidemic.”

He told the Politburo standing committee that the country must race against time to curb the spread of the virus and that those who neglect their duties will be punished, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Medical teams from the People’s Liberation Army were arriving in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, to relieve overwhelmed health workers and to staff the new 1,000-bed hospital, located in the countryside far from the city center.

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Its prefabricated wards are equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment and ventilation systems. A second hospital with 1,500 beds is due to open within days.

“The lack of hospital rooms forced sick people to return home, which is extremely dangerous,’’ Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan told CCTV. ‘‘So having additional [beds] available is a great improvement.”

China’s Shanghai Composite stock index plunged nearly 8 percent on the first day of trading after the Lunar New Year holiday, despite a central bank announcement that it was putting $173 billion into the markets. ‘‘We are fully confident in and capable of minimizing the epidemic’s impact on the economy,’’ Lian Weiliang, deputy chief of the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a news conference in Beijing.

With the holiday ending, many companies required employees to work from home to minimize the risk of infection. Volkswagen said its 3,500 employees in Beijing would do so for two weeks.

Xing Xuemei, the manager of Dohia, a bedding and household supplies store in the city of Zhengzhou, said it won’t open until Feb. 9.

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Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, said that the semi-autonomous territory will shut almost all but two land and sea border crossings with the mainland at midnight to stem the spread of the virus. Only the land checkpoints at Shenzhen Bay and the bridge to Macao and Zhuhai will remain open.

More than 2,000 hospital workers went on strike earlier in the day, demanding a complete closure of the border, and their union has threatened a bigger walkout Tuesday.

Hong Kong was hit hard by SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, in 2002-03, an illness from the same family of viruses as the current outbreak and which many believe was intensified by official Chinese secrecy and obfuscation.

“In essence, it’s a version of SARS that spreads more easily but causes less damage,” Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading in Britain, said about the virus.

Chinese scientists said they have more evidence that it likely originated in bats. In a study published in the journal Nature, Shi Zhen-Li and colleagues at the Wuhan Institute of Virology reported that genome sequences from seven patients were 96 percent identical to a bat coronavirus.

SARS is also believed to have originated in bats, although it jumped to civet cats before infecting people. Scientists suspect the latest outbreak began at a seafood market in Wuhan where wild animals were on sale and in contact with people.

Meanwhile, Japanese health officials said a passenger on a Japanese-operated cruise ship tested positive for the virus after leaving the vessel in Hong Kong on Jan. 25.

The Diamond Princess returned to Yokohama carrying more than 3,000 passengers and crew after making port calls in Vietnam, Taiwan, and Okinawa. A team of quarantine officials and medical staff boarded the ship Monday and began medical checks of everyone on board, a health ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with department rules.

The patient is currently recovering and is in stable condition, and his traveling companions so far have not been infected, the captain said.