China expanded drastic travel restrictions on Monday and prolonged a public holiday to contain an epidemic that has killed 80 people and infected more than 2,300, as several countries prepared to evacuate their citizens from a quarantined city at the outbreak's epicenter.
While there were no new deaths confirmed outside of hard-hit province Hubei, the national tally of verified infections rose by 769, around half of them in Hubei, the National Health Commission said. It said 461 of those infected were in serious condition.
China has locked down Hubei in the country's centre, an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people and intended to slow transmission of the respiratory virus.
Its ability to spread appears to be getting stronger though it is not as powerful as SARS, top Chinese health officials said at a press conference.
A working group chaired by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to tackle the epidemic decided to extend the Spring Festival holiday originally scheduled to end on Jan 30 to reduce population flows, alongside unspecified changes to the starting dates of schools, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Outside the epicenter, Shandong province and four cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an and Tianjin - announced bans on long-distance buses entering or leaving, a move that will affect millions of people travelling over the Lunar New Year holiday.
The populous southern province of Guangdong, Jiangxi in the centre, and three cities made it mandatory for residents to wear face masks in public.
Originating in Hubei's capital of Wuhan, the virus has spread throughout China and across the world - with cases confirmed in around a dozen countries including as far away as the United States.
The US State Department said on Sunday it was arranging a flight from Wuhan to San Francisco for consulate staff and other Americans in the city.
France's government and the French carmaker PSA also said they planned to evacuate staff and families, who will be quarantined in a city in a neighboring province.
Japan is coordinating with Beijing to swiftly evacuate its citizens, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. Saudi Arabia asked its nationals present around Wuhan to contact its embassy for evacuation, while Jordan said it had obtained permission from Beijing to move its citizens from the city out of the country.
The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that a Wuhan market where animals including rats, snakes and hedgehogs were reportedly sold is highly relevant to the outbreak, state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.
On Sunday, the government said it was banning all trade in wildlife until the emergency is over, but conservationists complain that Beijing has previously failed to deliver on such pledges.
Animal rights groups called for the ban to be made permanent, saying it could end the possibility of future outbreaks.
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