Coronavirus claims first victims outside Chinese province

The new strain of coronavirus has claimed its first victims outside Hubei as Chinese authorities brought seven more cities in the province under lock-down to stop the spread of the deadly disease, local reports say.

Health officials on Thursday confirmed that an 80-year-old man died after getting infected with coronavirus in Hebei, a northern province near Beijing. The other death happened in Heilongjiang, a mountainous northern province bordering Russia.

The local Hebei Daily, citing health officials, said the unnamed man in his 80s used to visit his relatives in Hubei quite often.

Dozens of people who met him in Hubei have been quarantined. None of them are showing any symptoms of the disease such as runny nose, cough, fever or shortness of breath.

Details about the victim who died in Heilongjiang were not forthcoming from local agencies.

Death toll from the coronavirus has climbed to 26 and suspected cases have risen to 869.

Hours after Wuhan, a city of 11 million and the epicentre of the disease, imposed a complete travel ban early on Thursday, seven other cities in Hubei province including Huanggang, Ezhou, Chibi, Lichuan, Qianjiang, Xiantao and Zhijiang followed suit at midnight or later.

Schools in Hubei province have postponed the start of spring semester classes in the wake of the virus outbreak.

Beijing has allotted $144 million to Hubei authorities for taking measures to stop the spread of the disease.

Health officials fear a spurt in coronavirus in the days ahead as tens of thousands of people are heading home for Lunar New Year holiday this weekend.

At least 20 million people have been affected by the travel ban during the festival season.

Most passengers in trains, buses, flights and ferries are wearing face masks as a precautionary measure against the disease.

The World Health Organisation which met in Geneva on Thursday said China is taking strong measures to contain the coronavirus and there is more transparency now than in 2002-03 when SARS coronavirus claimed some 800 lives in Asia.

WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom, said while China is facing a health emergency, the world need not panic over coronavirus.

Sixteen coronavirus cases have been reported outside China so far. They include four in Thailand, two each in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan and Vietnam and one each in Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and the US.