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Covid-19 cases pass 66,000 in China as residents in capital who flout new restrictions told they will be held accountable under the law

Beijing has ordered people returning to the city from holidays to quarantine themselves for 14 days to try to contain the coronavirus spread, as the death toll in China from the outbreak passed 1,500.

On Saturday, the countrys National Health Commission said 2,641 new cases were confirmed in the previous 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed infections across mainland China to 66,492. There were also 143 deaths in the 24 hours to midnight on Friday, taking total fatalities from the virus to 1,523.

The official Beijing Daily newspaper said people failing to obey government orders to quarantine themselves on return from the holidays would be punished. But it was not immediately clear how that would be enforced, or whether the restrictions would apply to non-residents or foreigners arriving from abroad.

Beijing has a population of more than 20 million people and the annual National Peoples Congress, where thousands of Communist Party delegates pour into the city, is due to start on 5 March.

Global Times (@globaltimesnews)

Beijing city is intensifyng virus fight, ordering all Beijing-based work units to ensure “zero infections” as the city faces a challenge of rising arrivals of migrant workers. The capital city enacted a law Friday all people coming to Beijing must be quarantined for 14 days. pic.twitter.com/xbqRAIQcn9

February 15, 2020

From now on, all those who have returned to Beijing should stay at home or submit to group observation for 14 days after arriving, Beijings virus prevention working group said in a notice cited by the Beijing Daily.

Those who refuse to accept home or centralised observation and other prevention and control measures will be held accountable under the law, it said.

A Chinese worker wears a protective mask and goggles as he cleans and disinfects machines at a nearly empty subway station during rush hour in Beijing. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

A National Health Commission official Liang Wannian told a news conference the government would continue to try to contain the spread of virus in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province the centre of the outbreak. The commission was focused on lowering the fatality rate and reducing the infection rate, Liang said.

The number of deaths in Hubei rose by 139 as of Friday, with 107 of those in Wuhan. A total of 1,123 people in Wuhan had died from the coronavirus.

Wang Hesheng, the new head of Hubeis Health Commission, vowed to find and treat everyone affected by the virus, the state-run Global Times said.

Wang was one of several high-level appointees flown in to Hubei province in the past week to take over from sacked local officials. It followed public anger over the death in Wuhan of whistleblower doctor, Li Wenliang, who succumbed to the virus.

China has been struggling to get the worlds second largest economy going after the lunar new year holiday, which was extended by 10 days to help contain the virus. The Global Times reported that Chinas banks have offered $77bn in lines of credit to help combat the epidemic. The central government has also pumped tens of billions into the countrys financial system.

A man wearing a face mask walks his dog in Beijing. Photograph: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile the White House economics advisor, Larry Kudlow, said he expected the virus to maybe knock 0.2-0.3% off the US GDP in the first quarter.

The number of trade fairs, sports events and industry conferences in China and overseas that have been affected by the spread of the virus continued to increase.

International Business Machines Corp (IBM) said on Friday it had canceled its participation in the RSA cyber security conference in San Francisco at the end of February due to coronavirus-related concerns.

Earlier, Facebook said it had cancelled its global marketing summit scheduled for next month, also in San Francisco, over worry about the same risks.

The Mobile World Congress (MWC), the annual telecoms industry gathering in Barcelona, was also cancelled after a mass exodus by exhibitors linked to the coronavirus.

Organisers of next weeks gymnastics World Cup in Melbourne said on Saturday the entire Chinese team had pulled out due to travel restrictions.

A top Chinese official, in an interview with Reuters, acknowledged that the coronavirus was a huge challenge, but defended the governments management of the epidemic and lashed out at the overreaction of some countries.

State Councillor Wang Yi, who also serves as Chinas foreign minister, said China had taken decisive measures to fight the epidemic, many going beyond international health regulations and World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

Through our efforts the epidemic is overall under control, he said.

Outside mainland China, there have been nearly 450 cases in some 28 countries and territories, and three deaths. Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death on Thursday.

One person has died in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

The virus is killing about 2% of those infected, but has spread faster than other respiratory viruses that emerged this century.

A WHO-led joint mission with China will start its outbreak investigation work this weekend, focusing on how the new coronavirus is spreading and its severity, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Reuters contributed to this report

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/15/coronavirus-cases-pass-66000-as-beijing-orders-14-day-quarantine-for-returnees