BEIJING (AP) - China has expanded sweeping efforts to contain a viral disease by postponing the end of the Lunar New Year holiday to keep the public at home and avoid spreading infection as the death toll rose to 80.
Tens of millions of Chinese who traveled for the holiday were due to return home this week in the world’s largest movement of humanity, raising the risk the virus might spread in crowded trains and planes.
Hong Kong announced it would bar entry to visitors from the mainland province at the center of the outbreak. Travel agencies were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide.
The new viral illness is being watched with a wary eye around the globe has accelerated its spread in China. The National Health Commission said 2,744 cases had been confirmed by midnight Sunday.
The U.S. Consulate in the city at the epicenter of the outbreak has announced it will evacuate its personnel and some private citizens aboard a charter flight.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called the outbreak a grave situation.
Increasingly drastic anti-disease efforts began with the Jan. 22 suspension of plane, train and bus links to Wuhan, the city of 11 million people where the outbreak began last month. That lockdown has expanded to a total of 17 cities with more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease-control measures ever imposed.
Health officials say the U.S. has five confirmed cases of the new pneumonia-like virus from China.
Two new confirmed cases were announced Sunday — one in Los Angeles County in California and the other in Arizona. All of the U.S. patients had traveled to Wuhan, the Chinese city that is the center of the outbreak.
Other confirmed cases were in Orange County, California; Washington state; and Chicago.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said Sunday the infected person presented themselves for care once they noticed that they were not feeling well and is currently receiving medical attention for the coronavirus.
The Orange County Health Care Agency said Saturday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a traveler from the epicenter of the outbreak in China tested positive for the virus.
The patient is in isolation at a hospital and in good condition. The local health agency is monitoring people who have had close contact with the patient.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he is making arrangements to fly Japanese people home from Wuhan and is in talks with China. Abe told reporters that Japanese who wish to be evacuated will be flown out on a chartered flight. He said officials had been working on such preparations through the weekend.
Also on Sunday, Chinese authorities announced a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals, saying they will “severely investigate and punish” violators. The ban will continue until “the epidemic situation is lifted nationwide” in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus and block potential sources of infection and transmission.
The outbreak of the new virus linked to a wildlife market in central China prompted renewed calls for enforcement of laws against the trade in and consumption of exotic species. Demand for wild animals in Asia, especially China, is hastening the extinction of many species, on top of posing a perennial health threat.