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China stutters back to work as virus deaths rise

AFP

Millions of people in China returned to work Monday after an extended holiday aimed at slowing the spread of a coronavirus, with the extra travel deepening contagion concerns as the death toll climbed above 900.

At least 40,000 have been infected by a new pathogen believed to have emerged late last year at a market in the central city of Wuhan.

And although the World Health Organization (WHO) has said there are signs the epidemic is stabilising, the agency’s chief warned Monday there could be more infections abroad in people who have never travelled to China.

The comments from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus came as a team of WHO experts departed for China, led by Bruce Aylward, a veteran of previous health emergencies.

In an attempt to contain the virus, cities in Hubei province at the epicentre of the outbreak have been locked down and many transport links countrywide have been cut to stop the movement of hundreds of millions of people who usually visit family during the annual Lunar New Year break.

The holiday was officially extended by only three days but many cities and provinces pushed the date to February 10.

The unprecedented measures have turned cities into ghost towns as people stay inside.

But there were some signs of normality Monday.

Roads in Beijing and Shanghai had significantly more traffic and the southern city of Guangzhou said it would start to resume normal public transport.

However, for those at work, it was not an easy balance to strike.

“Of course we’re worried,” said a 25-year-old man surnamed Li in a Beijing beauty salon that reopened Monday.

“When customers come in, we first take their temperature, then use disinfectant and ask them to wash their hands.”

Ma Cunmei, a Beijing estate agent, told AFP she wanted to be ready for work because she believed many workers would have leases about to expire after being out of the city so long on the extended break.