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Taiwan bars travel from China as coronavirus spreads

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Via Financial Times

Taiwan on Sunday said it was barring almost all visitors from China in a bid to stop the coronavirus from taking hold on the island as governments around the world step up efforts to halt the spread of the Sars-like disease.

The move came as China said on Sunday 56 people had died from the disease, up from 42 a day earlier, while 1975 people were infected, including three in Taiwan.

Underlining international concern over the outbreak, the US State Department said on Sunday it was evacuating staff from its consulate in Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicentre of the disease. The virus has now also been detected in the US, France, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and Nepal.

In China, the national travel agency suspended Chinese tour groups travelling overseas and domestically over the lunar new year holiday that started this weekend while the city of Beijing has suspended all buses into and out of the capital from Sunday.

The travel restrictions in Beijing and other smaller cities, such as Xian and Shantou, come on top of a lockdown of more than 40m people living in Wuhan and surrounding areas.

The growing number of measures to deal with the outbreak, which also include closures of entertainment and tourist venues, are expected to deal a heavy blow to the world’s second-biggest economy. China’s gross domestic product grew at its slowest pace in 29 years last year.

China’s president Xi Jinping said late on Saturday the country was facing a “grave situation” at a meeting of the Communist party’s top leadership, the politburo standing committee, state television reported.

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The escalating public health emergency comes as China celebrates the lunar new year, the most important holiday of the year in which hundreds of millions of people make billions of trips to celebrate with family and friends.

Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre said on Sunday that due to the continuous increase in infections, all travellers from the Chinese province of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital, including those studying in Taiwan, would be barred with immediate effect.

Taipei said it would also suspend applications from Chinese citizens for travel permits except for special cases.

Those Chinese citizens who already had a permit to travel to Taiwan would have their entry dates pushed back, and Chinese students studying in Taiwan who had gone home for the Lunar New Year break would have their return dates postponed by two weeks.

Business travellers from China as well as Chinese spouses of Taiwanese citizens were still allowed to enter Taiwan but would be required to go into a self-regulated quarantine for two weeks.

Taiwan has 3 confirmed cases and has another 156 undergoing quarantine and testing.

In Hong Kong, authorities on Sunday declared the city’s highest level of emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak and said all schools would remain closed for a further two weeks beyond the lunar new year holiday.

Hong Kong’s popular amusement parks Disneyland and Ocean Park were both closed from Sunday to help prevent the spread of the virus, Chinese state television reported, while Shanghai Disneyland has been closed since Saturday.

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McDonald’s said it had closed its restaurants in five Chinese cities while the country’s leading cinema chains temporarily shut tens of thousands of movie theatres across the country. China’s leading film studios cancelled their plans to release the biggest movie blockbusters of the year at the start of the Lunar New Year holiday, traditionally the commercial high point in the world for the cinema industry.

The coronavirus outbreak could hit China’s quarterly GDP growth, according to Barclays, taking into account the potential shocks to transportation, restaurants and hotels.

India said it had urged its citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to China.

While no cases have yet been confirmed in India, authorities have placed 11 people under observation, of whom four had tested negative for the virus.

With additional reporting by Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

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