All Hong Kong primary and secondary schools are shutting down until February 17 as part of the latest effort to curb the deadly Wuhan coronavirus’ spread, the Associated Press reported Saturday. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam also announced that officials have raised the government’s response level to its highest possible rank, emergency.
Speaking in similarly dire terms, China’s leader Xi Jinping told state broadcasters the “accelerating spread” of the outbreak has created a “grave situation” throughout the country. The virus has already infected an estimated 1,400 people and is responsible for 42 deaths, nearly double the total death toll from early yesterday.
The deadly outbreak has put at least 36 million people on lockdown and several heavily visited tourist locations such as sections of the Great Wall near Beijing and Shanghai Disneyland are closed indefinitely. At least seven movies in China have also postponed their theatrical releases so as not to promote large congregations that could potentially help the virus spread. The epicenter of the outbreak for which it gets its name—Wuhan, a city of some 11 million people—has issued a ban preventing residents from driving in downtown areas beginning Sunday, according to the AP report. However, a team of 6,000, government-assigned taxis will remain available.
So far, cases of the coronavirus have also been reported in U.S., Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand as millions travel in celebration of the Lunar New Year. Officials in Australia and Malaysia also documented their first cases of the coronavirus Saturday. The answer as to where the virus came from remains elusive, though scientists have posited it may have emerged from animals, possibly bats, birds, or—according to one disputed study—snakes. While many public officials contend the coronavirus constitutes an international health emergency, the World Health Organization declined to designate the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” earlier this week. With its alarmingly proliferating spread in the last few days, however, that may change.