Updated Jan 28, 2020

Hong Kong cuts rail links to mainland China due to coronavirus

A woman wears a protective mask as she walks across the Yangtze River Bridge in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 27. Photo: Getty Images

106 people have died from an outbreak of a coronavirus strain that originated in Wuhan, China, the country's National Health Commission said on Monday.

The latest: Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday that the semiautonomous city would cut its rail links to mainland China and flights would be reduced, though the measures stopped short of a total closure of the border, per the AP.

  • The U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory for China to "Level 3: Reconsider travel" this week because of the virus. Last week, the department raised the advisory for the Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, to "Level 4: Do Not Travel."
  • Officials in China have extended the Lunar New Year holiday until Feb. 2, instead of Jan. 30 as scheduled, in an attempt to stop people from traveling and spreading the respiratory illness, Bloomberg reports.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Beijing plans to evacuate its Wuhan consulate personnel and some private citizens on a limited-capacity charter flight to San Francisco, per AP, which reports that those "at greater risk from coronavirus" would be prioritized over others.

Impact in the U.S.: Five Americans — all of whom traveled in Wuhan, China, and are now in California (2), Arizona, Washington state, and Chicago — have contracted the virus.

What's happening: The number of confirmed cases in China has increased to more than 4,500, according to the country's National Health Commission. Health officials confirmed earlier last week that the virus, which causes fever and respiratory symptoms, can be passed from person to person.

  • Major cities in China, including Beijing, have canceled large public gatherings for the Lunar New Year holiday, the most important in the country, to help contain the outbreak, according to the Washington Post.
  • Wuhan is quickly building a pre-fabricated 1,000-bed hospital to treat only patients infected with coronavirus, as other hospitals struggle to meet demand and deal with a shortage of supplies.
  • The Chinese government this past week locked down the cities of Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou, collectively home to nearly 20 million people, AP reports.

The big picture: Several countries in the region are also experiencing cases, and North Korea is temporarily banning foreign tourists in response to the outbreak, according to Reuters.

  • On Monday, Australia confirmed its fifth case after diagnosing its first on Saturday.
  • The first case in Canada was confirmed by health officials Saturday after a patient presented with symptoms in Toronto.
  • In France, the country's Health Minister Agnès Buzyn confirmed two patients were hospitalized in Paris with the illness. The other case is in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, per Reuters.

What they're saying: The World Health Organization decided last week that it's "too early" to declare an international health emergency.

  • "Make no mistake, this is an emergency in China, but it is not yet a global health emergency," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference.
  • "People's lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed," Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday, according to Reuters.

What's next: A possible live animal source is still being investigated in China. There is no specific treatment for the virus, though several antivirals and experimental vaccines are under investigation.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with more recent developments.

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