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Health crisis

Economy to take hit as China confirms 56 deaths from virus

A new hospital will be built in five days (Sky News)

UPDATE 26 Jan: Health authorities in China are struggling to contain the coronavirus as the death toll rose on Saturday to 56.

The reported deaths include a doctor treating casualties and 39 in the Hubei province where 10 cities have banned travel and businesses have shut down for the Chinese new year celebrations. More than 56 million people, almost equal to the UK’s population, have been ordered not travel.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke following an emergency government meeting to warn that the spread of the killer virus is worsening.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Saturday declared a virus emergency in the Asian financial hub

The outbreak has been traced to a seafood market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. A hospital with 1,000 beds is being built and will be ready within days.

US coffee chain Starbucks is closing all its outlets in Hubei province for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, following a similar move by McDonald’s in five Hubei cities. Shanghai Disneyland, Beijing’s Forbidden City and sections of the Great Wall near the capital were also closed.

The owner of Uniqlo has closed 17 of its shops in Wuhan, with the Swedish flat-pack giant Ikea following suit with its superstore at the request of authorities.

Economists estimate China’s GDP for the first quarter could be hit by about one percentage point, with tourism, retail and hospitality all set to take an impact.

Shares in luxury goods firms have suffered from the anticipated drop in demand from China, and French spirits group Remy Cointreau said it was “clearly concerned” about the potential impact.

However, stock markets recovered as the World Health Organisation decided not to declare a global emergency. The FTSE 100 surged 135 points before settling 78.3 points (1.04%) higher to close at 7585.98.

The number of confirmed cases in China stands at 2,051, the National Health Commission said.

The virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, Malaysia, France, the United States and Australia. The first case has been reported in Canada.

Tests on 14 people in the UK proved negative, including five people in Scotland. Boots the Chemist reported it had sold out of face masks in Edinburgh which is popular with Chinese tourists and students.

Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, though some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings and of the lockdown.

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