- Li will visit patients and medical staff as part of role directing virus prevention work in the city
- Low awareness of prevention and control in countryside a key challenge, according to health official
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Wuhan " epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak " on Monday as health officials warned the spread of the deadly disease was accelerating, with new infections and deaths continuing to rise.
A brief report released by the Chinese government on Monday said Li " who is heading the high-level group charged with fighting the outbreak " was visiting patients and medical personnel, while also directing virus prevention work in the city, capital of the central province of Hubei.
"You are trying every means to save lives," LI told medical staff at Jinyintan hospital, one of the designated institutions in Wuhan for treating infected patients. "When you are putting your efforts to save lives, you have to protect yourselves too."
China's National Health Commission said on Monday that 2,744 people had so far been infected and 80 killed. There were 769 new cases on Sunday, compared with 688 recorded the day before.
Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, He Qinghua, first-degree inspector of the commission's Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, said the large number of migrant workers returning to the countryside for Lunar New Year celebrations had been a major challenge in containing the spread of the disease.
He said the mobilisation of grass roots level Communist Party officials would hold the key in winning the battle against the new coronavirus.
"The awareness (of prevention and control) is relatively low in the countryside. We will need to fill the gap of this weak link," He said.
"The most important thing now is mobilising our cadres at the grass roots level so we can do better in our prevention and control work at the community level."
According to Feng Luzhao, researcher with the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the most effective way to stop the transmission would be to reduce travel and avoid meetings.
"(We have decided) to extend the Chinese New Year holidays because (we want) to encourage people to stay home and avoid going to areas where infection may be prevalent and places with large crowds of people," Feng said at the same press conference. "(We believe) this can help curb the spread of the disease."
Song Shuli, a National Health Commission spokeswoman, said on Monday the commission would hold daily press briefings from now on to "enhance the release of information" and pledged to reply promptly to any questions submitted by reporters.
The outbreak seriously disrupted the new year festivities, with emergency travel bans imposed in different parts of the country to curb the spread of the virus. On Monday, China said it had extended the ongoing holiday period by three days until Sunday.
5 million left Wuhan before lockdown, 1,000 new virus cases expected
The State Council also said kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, and colleges would be closed until further notice.
In neighbouring Mongolia, state news agency Montsame said all universities and educational institutes had been closed until March 2, in a bid to contain the spread of the disease. Reuters reported Mongolia had also closed its border crossings for cars and pedestrians, effective Monday, and had called for all public gatherings to be cancelled.
China's foreign ministry said on Monday that Kazakhstan had suspended its 72-hour transit visa free arrangement for Chinese passport holders.
Coronavirus found in seafood market
The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention released an image of the new coronavirus strain on Monday.
The strain was isolated from environmental samples taken from the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan where the virus, known as 2019-nCoV, originated.
The virus was detected in 35 of the 585 environmental samples collected on January 1 and January 12, with 33 of the positive samples taken from the market's western zone, where the wildlife trading business was concentrated.
The findings indicate the virus originated from the wild animals sold at the market.
Public anger grows
Since the outbreak emerged, doctors and nurses in Hubei province have said they are frustrated with the lack of supplies " ranging from beds to face masks " as they struggle to cope with the crisis.
Concerns over the lack of resources were heightened after the government imposed a travel ban on Wuhan last week, making deliveries difficult.
Death toll at 80 as China bans wildlife trade in attempt to halt coronavirus
Hubei governor Wang Xiaodong said in a press conference on Sunday that the government was reinforcing medical supplies. But the press conference unleashed more public anger, as Wang corrected himself twice about the number of face masks being made available in the province.
Wang first put the number at 10.8 billion, then changed it to 1.8 billion before correcting himself again to say that 1.8 million masks were being provided.
Public anger was also directed at Wang for not wearing a face mask during the press conference. Other officials at the briefing did wear masks, but incorrectly. Hubei provincial government secretary general Bie Bixiong's did not cover his nose, while Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang appeared to wear his mask upside down.
The National Immigration Administration said the public security bureau in Hubei had already suspended passport applications, as well as permits for visits to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. But, it said, there was a special channel to handle applications for emergency purposes. No one had left China through the Wuhan airport or harbour over the past four days, the administration said.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) announced on microblogging platform Weibo that tests in China scheduled for Friday and Sunday had been cancelled. Two other language testing organisations, TOEFL and GRE, also announced cancellation of tests in China in February.
Hotpot chain Haidilao has said it will close all of its outlets across China from Tuesday to Friday.
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