The strict quarantine measures have been imposed in a bid halt the spread of the killer infection as the death toll continues to rise. The National Health Commission (NHC) has authorised hospitals nationwide to quarantine any suspected carriers of the virus and their close contacts, against their will if necessary. Coronavirus has so far claimed nine lives in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and infected more than 460 other people across the country.

Wuhan has remained at the centre of fatalities and infections since the outbreak was first reported at the end of December but cases are increasingly being confirmed in Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Macau, as well as the US, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

NHC director Li Bin said prevention and control of the outbreak had reached a “most critical stage”.

Mr Li said: “Recently there has been a big change in the number of cases, which is related to our deepening our understanding of the disease, improving diagnostic methods and optimising the distribution of diagnostic kits.”

Gao Fu, the director-general of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the new virus was adapting and mutating, making it difficult for authorities to control the outbreak.

As China vowed to tighten containment measures in hospitals, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was holding crisis talks to decide if the coronavirus outbreak constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

There are fears of a pandemic similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak that started in China and killed nearly 800 people in 2002 and 2003.

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Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. The viral infection can cause pneumonia and be passed from person to person.

Though the origin of the virus has yet to be identified, WHO said the primary source was probably animal.

Chinese officials have linked the outbreak to Wuhan’s seafood market.



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