China heads into shutdown as virus spreads
China has shut part of the Great Wall and suspended public transport in 10 cities, stranding millions of people at the start of the Lunar New Year holiday as authorities rush to contain a virus that has killed 26 people and infected more than 800.
The World Health Organization has declared the new coronavirus an "emergency in China" but stopped short of declaring it of international concern.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million at the centre of the outbreak, is in virtual lockdown. Nearly all flights at Wuhan's airport have been cancelled and checkpoints blocked the main roads leading out of town on Friday.
As the city slides into isolation, pharmacies have begun to run out of supplies and hospitals have been flooded with nervous residents. The city is rushing to build a 1000-bed hospital by Monday, state media said.
The facility will be a prefabricated structure on a 25,000 sq m lot, slated for completion February 3.
Despite the lockdown, the virus is already spreading further afield.
The vast majority of the cases and all of the deaths have been in China, but it has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal and the United States.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday it had 63 patients under investigation, with two confirmed cases, both in people who had travelled to Wuhan.
Following a congressional briefing by health officials, Republican Senator John Barrasso, a former physician, said people in the United States with the virus may have been infected as long as 14 days earlier in China.
"We want to try to stop and prevent people from coming to the United States if they have it," Barrasso told reporters, without providing any details of how that might be accomplished.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China.
The newly-identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing. Most of the fatalities have been in elderly patients, many with pre-existing conditions, the WHO said.
As of Thursday, China's National Health Commission said there were 830 confirmed cases and 26 deaths.
The WHO said on Thursday it was a "bit too early" to designate the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, which would require countries to step up their response.
That decision could well be reassessed in coming days as the situation evolves, said Anthony Fauci, the US National Institutes of Health's top infectious disease official, adding that it was "open to question" whether shutting down travel would have a major effect.
Some experts believe the virus is not as dangerous as the one that caused the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which also began in China and killed nearly 800 people, or the one that caused Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.
There is no vaccine or specific treatment for the new virus.