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China market plunges as coronavirus death toll grows

Ken Moritsugu
The Associated Press

BEIJING — China opened a new hospital built in 10 days, infused cash into its tumbling

financial markets and further restricted people’s movement in sweeping new steps Monday to contain a rapidly spreading virus and its escalating impact.

Japanese officials, meanwhile, were deciding whether to quarantine more than 3,000 people on a cruise ship that carried a passenger who tested positive for the virus.

Chinese health authorities reported 361 deaths and 17,205 confirmed cases, an increase of 2,829 over a 24-hour period, as other countries continued evacuating citizens from hardest-hit Hubei province and restricted the entry of Chinese or people who recently traveled to the country. The World Health Organization said the number of cases will keep growing because tests are pending on thousands of suspected cases.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, presiding over a special meeting of the country’s top Communist Party body for the second time since the crisis started, said “we have launched a people’s war of prevention of the epidemic.”

He told the Politburo standing committee that the country must race against time to curb the spread of the virus and that those who neglect their duties will be punished, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

New hospital: Medical teams from the

People’s Liberation Army were arriving in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, to relieve overwhelmed health workers and to staff the new 1,000-bed hospital, located in the countryside far from the city center.

Its prefabricated wards are equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment and ventilation systems. A second hospital with 1,500 beds is due to open within days.

“The lack of hospital rooms forced sick people to return home, which is extremely dangerous,” Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan told CCTV. “So having additional (beds) available is a great improvement.”

China’s Shanghai Composite stock index plunged nearly 8% on the first day of trading after the Lunar New Year holiday, despite a central bank announcement that it was putting 1.2 trillion yuan ($173 billion) into the markets.

Many companies have required employees to work from home to minimize the risk of infection. Volkswagen said its 3,500 employees in Beijing would do so for two weeks.

Xing Xuemei, the manager of Dohia, a household supplies store in the city of Zhengzhou, said it won’t open until Feb. 9. She said all the stores in her mall were closed except for a supermarket.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, announced that the semi-autonomous territory will shut almost all but two land and sea border crossings with the mainland at midnight to stem the spread of the virus.

Only the land checkpoints at Shenzhen Bay and the bridge to Macao and Zhuhai will remain open.

More than 2,000 hospital workers went on strike earlier in the day, demanding a complete closure of the border, and their union has threatened a bigger walkout Tuesday.

Cruise ship: Japanese health officials said a passenger on a Japanese-operated cruise ship tested positive for the virus after leaving the vessel in Hong Kong on Jan. 25.

The Diamond Princess returned to Yokohama carrying more than 3,000 passengers and crew after making port calls in Vietnam, Taiwan and Okinawa. A team of quarantine officials and medical staff boarded the ship Monday and began medical checks of everyone on board, a health ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with department rules.

The passengers and crew members may be quarantined on the ship if the captain agrees to do so, the official said.

The ship’s captain said Hong Kong’s health authorities notified the ship about the passenger’s infection on Saturday, six days after he got off the ship after not being caught on thermal screening, according to information tweeted by a passenger. The patient is currently recovering and is in stable condition, and his traveling companions so far have not been infected, the captain said.

“I wish we were informed as soon as they found out, then I could have worn a mask or washed hands more carefully,” the passenger said. “I was in Hong Kong nine days ago and it seems to be too late now.”