BEIJING (AP) — China on Monday expanded sweeping efforts to contain a viral disease by extending the Lunar New Year holiday to keep the public at home and limit infections as the death toll rose to 81.
Hong Kong announced it would bar entry to visitors from the province at the center of the outbreak after a warning that the virus's ability to spread was growing. Travel agencies were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide, adding to the rising economic cost.
Increasingly drastic anti-disease efforts began with the Jan. 22 suspension of plane, train and bus links to Wuhan, a city of 11 million in central China where the virus was first detected in December. 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 center, extended the holiday by an additional week in the city to Feb. 9. It ordered sports stadiums and religious events closed.
Tens of millions of people 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, 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 United States, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada and Australia.
The U.S. cases are in Washington state, Chicago, Southern California and Arizona.
China also reported five cases in Hong Kong and two in Macao.
On Monday, China's No. 2 leader, Premier Li Keqiang, visited Wuhan to "guide epidemic prevention work," the Cabinet website said. Photos on the site showed Li, in a blue smock and green face mask, meeting hospital employees.
Later, the premier, wearing a face mask and a dark windbreaker, visited a supermarket. Shoppers, also wearing masks, cheered him, "Happy New Year!"
"To get the epidemic under control in Wuhan and the good health of people in Wuhan will be good news for the whole country," Li told the crowd. "We wish the people of Wuhan a safe, healthy and long life. Let's go, Wuhan!"
Elsewhere, the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, was closed indefinitely to tourists on Monday, the government announced. The former imperial palace in Beijing closed Friday until further notice and other major tourist sites also have shut down.