WUHAN: Premier Li Keqiang on Monday (Jan 27) became the most senior Chinese leader to visit Wuhan since the city was struck by the outbreak of a deadly virus that has spread across the country and sparked global concern.
The virus toll has spiked to 80 dead despite a huge lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei province, home to the majority of fatalities from a disease that has infected more than 2,700 people nationwide so far.
The number of deaths from the flu-like virus in Hubei province, including Wuhan city, climbed from 56 to 76 overnight, health commission officials said, with four deaths elsewhere in China. While a small number of cases have been confirmed in more than 10 countries, no fatalities have been reported elsewhere.
The total number of confirmed cases in China rose about 30 per cent to 2,744, about half of which were in Hubei.
Wearing a mask and blue plastic scrubs, Li was in Wuhan to “investigate and guide” ongoing efforts to control the virus in the city of 11 million people, which has been placed under an unprecedented quarantine, China's state Council said on its official social media account.
The State Council, China's cabinet, said Li would meet with patients and medical staff on the frontline.
The premier was appointed head of a working group to tackle the epidemic, which began at a market in Wuhan that was selling wild animals for food.
The group has already announced an extension to the Lunar New Year holiday originally scheduled to end on Jan 30 “to reduce population flows”.
Transport curbs have also been imposed around China to cut off transmission routes.
Wuhan is already under virtual lockdown and severe limits on movement are in place in several other Chinese cities.
The central city of 11 million people clamped down further on Monday, announcing the immediate suspension of visa and passport services for Chinese citizens until Jan 30.
Despite the restrictions, the mayor of Wuhan said on sunday that five million people had left the city for holidays and other reasons.
Images from Wuhan showing hospital corridors packed with people seeking treatment have circulated on Chinese social media, along with complaints of soaring prices for essentials such as vegetables.
With the coronavirus also expanding globally, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is travelling to Beijing to meet with government officials on the crisis.