China virus death toll rises as more cities restrict travel

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There are currently 830 confirmed cases of patients infected with the virus in China
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China has widened its travel restrictions in Hubei province – the centre of the coronavirus outbreak – as the death toll climbed to 26.

The restrictions will affect at least 20 million people across 10 cities, including the capital Wuhan, where the virus emerged.

On Thursday, a coronavirus patient died in nearby Hebei province – making it the first death outside Hubei.

Another death was later confirmed in north-east Heilongjiang province.

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The north-eastern area borders Russia and is more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) from Wuhan.

Nationally, there are currently 830 confirmed cases of patients infected with the virus.

The growing list of restrictions comes on the eve of Lunar New Year – one of the most important dates in the Chinese calendar, when millions of people travel home.

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Travel restrictions vary from city to city – though many places have suspended transport services.

The city of Wuhan is effectively on lockdown: all bus, subway and ferry services have been suspended and all outbound planes and trains cancelled.

Residents have been advised not to leave, and roadblocks have been reported.

Ezhou, a smaller city in Hubei, shut its railway station. The city of Enshi has suspended all bus services.

City officials in Beijing and Shanghai have also asked residents who return from affected areas to stay at home for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus, local media report.

We now know this is not a virus that will burn out on its own and disappear.

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Only the decisions being made in China – including shutting down cities – can stop it spreading.

Scientists have revealed each infected person is passing the virus onto between 1.4 and 2.5 people.

It is known as the virus’s basic reproduction number – anything higher than 1.0 means it’s self-sustaining.

Those figures are early estimates, but put coronavirus in roughly the same league as Sars. There are two crucial outstanding questions – who is infectious and when are they infectious.

The fact only 25% of reported cases are severe is a mixed blessing.

Yes, that is less dangerous than Sars, but if those hard-to-detect mild or maybe symptomless cases are contagious too, then it is much harder to contain.

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And we still don’t know when people are contagious. Is it before symptoms appear, or only after severe symptoms emerge? One is significantly harder to stop spreading than the other.

The virus has spread across China and to countries as far as Japan, Thailand and the US.

Earlier information from China’s National Health Commission, when the death toll was 17, said the youngest person who died from the virus was 48 and the oldest was 89.

Most victims were elderly and suffered from other chronic diseases including Parkinson’s and diabetes.

The World Health Organization has not classed the virus as an “international emergency”, partly because of the low number of overseas cases.

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