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Coronavirus death toll moves to 25 as Chinese government seals off more cities

BEIJING: China sealed off millions more people near the epicentre of a virus outbreak on Friday, shutting down public transport in an eighth city in an unprecedented quarantine effort as the death toll from the disease climbed to 25.

While the World Heath Organization held off on declaring a global emergency, despite confirmed cases in half a dozen other counties, China expanded a lockdown now covering some 26 million people and cancelled some Lunar New Year celebrations to prevent the disease spreading further.

The virus that emerged in the central city of Wuhan took eight more lives, the government said in its latest update, as the number of confirmed cases also leapt to 830.

The new virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds of people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003. The WHO said China was in a state of emergency, but it stopped short of making a declaration that would have prompted greater international cooperation, including possible trade and travel restrictions.

But Chinese authorities were taking no chances against a virus that has spread nationwide and to several other countries. The normally bustling metropolis of Wuhan, a major industrial and transport hub in the centre of the country, slid deeper into surreal isolation as China tightened a transport cordon around it and nearby cities.

With hundreds millions of people travelling across the country this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the government has halted all travel out of the city, municipal public transport has been suspended, and residents have been ordered not to leave home. Very few flights were coming into Wuhan, too, further isolating the city from the rest of the world.