BEIJING (AP) — China sent medical workers and equipment to a newly built hospital, infused cash into financial markets and further restricted people's movement in sweeping new steps Monday to contain a rapidly spreading virus and its escalating impact.
China's updated figures of 361 deaths, with 2,829 new cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the Chinese total to 17,205 cases, come as other countries continued evacuating citizens from hardest-hit Hubei province and restricted travel by Chinese or people who recently traveled in the country.
The World Health Organization said the number of cases will keep growing because tests are pending on thousands of suspected cases.
Reopening of schools was delayed to keep the virus from spreading further in Hubei, where the 1,000-bed hospital in the provincial capital Wuhan was completed in just 10 days. A second hospital with 1,500 beds will open within days. Restrictions were tightened still further in one city by allowing only one family member to venture out to buy supplies every other day.
Medical teams from the People's Liberation Army were arriving in Wuhan to relieve overwhelmed health workers and to work at the new hospital in the countryside far from the city center. Its prefabricated wards, where patients began arriving by late morning, are equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment and ventilation systems.
Leading Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan said additional hospital space was crucial to stop the spread of new infections.
"The lack of hospital rooms forced sick people to return home, which is extremely dangerous. So having additional (beds) available is a great improvement," Zhong told state broadcaster CCTV.
Zhong played a major role in China's 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, a coronavirus from the same family as the current pathogen.
In a sign of the economic toll of the outbreak, China's Shanghai Composite index plunged nearly 8% on the first day of trading after the Lunar New Year holiday. That despite a central bank announcement Sunday that it was putting 1.2 trillion yuan ($173 billion) into the markets.
"We are fully confident in and capable of minimizing the epidemic's impact on economy," said Lian Weiliang, deputy chief of the National Development and Reform Commission in Beijing.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced Monday that the semiautonomous territory will shut almost all land and sea border control points to the mainland at midnight to stem the spread of the virus. She said only two border checkpoints — at Shenzhen Bay and the bridge to Macau and Zhuhai — will remain open. Some hospital workers went on strike Monday and more threatened to walk out Tuesday unless the government agrees to talks.
Hong Kong has recorded 15 cases of the virus and has cut flights and train and bus connections to the mainland, and a push is growing for it to close the border completely. Organizers said about 6,000 medical staff were prepared to strike. Hong Kong was hard hit by the SARS outbreak, which many believe was intensified by Chinese secrecy and obfuscation.
South Korea, which has 15 confirmed cases, has quarantined 800 soldiers who recently visited China, Hong Kong or Macao or had contact with people who had, defense ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo said. Military service is required of all young South Korean men to guard against the communist North.
In Beijing, officials sought to reassure the country's 1.4 billion people there were adequate supplies of face masks and disinfectant, despite reported shortages in parts of the country.