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Mongolia closes border, China extends holiday to fight virus

Mongolia closes border

China on Monday expanded its sweeping efforts to contain a deadly virus, extending the Lunar New Year holiday to keep the public at home and avoid spreading infection as the death toll rose to 81.

Mongolia closed its vast border with China, and Hong Kong and Malaysia announced they would bar entry to visitors from the Chinese province at the centre of the outbreak following a warning by medical officials that the virus’s ability to spread was growing. Travel agencies were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide, adding to the rising economic losses.

Stock markets around the world were down sharply Monday as the lockdown in Chinese cities was expected to stifle travel, shopping and business for millions of people. Though markets in much of Asia, including China, were closed for the Lunar New Year, they slumped more than 2% in Japan and across Europe. Wall Street was expected to drop on the open and the international price of oil was down a sharp 4%.

China's increasingly drastic containment efforts began with the Jan. 22 suspension of plane, train and bus links to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China where the virus was first detected last month. That lockdown has expanded to 17 cities with more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease-control measures ever imposed.

The end of the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s busiest travel season, was pushed back to Sunday from Thursday to “reduce mass gatherings” and “block the spread of the epidemic,” a Cabinet statement said.

The government of Shanghai, a metropolis of 25 million people and a global business centre, extended the Lunar New York holiday by an additional week within the city to Feb. 9. It ordered sports stadiums to close and religious events to cancel.

Tens of millions of people in China and around Asia had been due to crowd into planes, trains and buses to return to work after visiting their hometowns or tourist sites for the holiday. Schools will postpone reopening until further notice, the Cabinet said.

The death toll rose Monday when the southern island province of Hainan in the South China Sea reported its first fatality, an 80-year-old woman whose family arrived from Wuhan on Jan. 17.

Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, has accounted for 76 of the deaths reported so far. There have been one each in Shanghai and the provinces of Hebei in the north, Heilongjiang in the northeast and Henan in central China.

The spread of the illness is being watched around the globe, with a small number of cases appearing in other countries. South Korea confirmed its fourth case Monday. Cases also have been confirmed in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada and Australia.

The U.S. cases are in Washington state, Chicago, southern California and Arizona.

China also reported eight cases in Hong Kong and five in Macao. Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of Hong Kong's communicable disease branch, said the city's eight cases all have Hubei ties, so there was no no sign yet that it is spreading to Hong Kong's general population.

Mongolia is the second country to close its border with China, following North Korea. Neither has reported any cases of the virus. Mongolia also closed its schools, universities and playgrounds for more than a month — until March 2.



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