A man pushes a child that sits on a suitcase as they wear protective masks to help stop the spread of the deadly virus at the Beijing railway station on Monday. AFP
Some tour operators in Europe are cancelling trips to China and offering customers refunds for bookings as concerns grow about the spread of the new flu-like virus, triggering a rout in major travel and airline stocks.
Steps to limit travel to China came after the death toll rose to 81, with more than 2,740 people infected by the virus.
China on Monday expanded sweeping efforts to contain a viral disease by extending the Lunar New Year holiday to keep the public at home and avoid spreading infection.
The death toll rose on Monday when the southern island province of Hainan in the South China Sea reported its first fatality, an 80-year-old woman whose family arrived from Wuhan on Jan.17.
A medical official takes the body temperature of a child at the departure hall of the airport in Changsha, Hunan. AP
Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, has accounted for 76 of the deaths reported so far.
In Germany, Studiosus, a specialist online travel agent which sells holidays of up to 20 days to China for about 3,665 euros ($4,065) has cancelled trips until the middle of April, it said on its website.
The move affected several hundred travellers, according to a spokeswoman for the company which last year had 2,300 customers travelling to China. The company’s next tour would have started on March 15.
Customers with a reservation leaving before May 31 can rebook or cancel their visit, it said.
Passengers arrive at LAX from Shanghai, China, in the Orange County suburb of Los Angeles. Reuters
Also in Germany, travel company DER Touristik will refund or change bookings for trips to China up to the end of March, it said in an email. At the moment, it has about 100 customers in China.
The body representing France’s tour operators, SETO, has recommended members suspend tours to China until at least Feb. 21 and offer customers the option of changing their booking.
Stocks in Asia and Europe fell sharply on Monday, with airlines and airport operators, hotel operators and luxury goods companies hit the hardest as investors worried about the impact of the virus on the global economy.
British independent travel agent Trailfinders has suspended bookings for China until the end of April, a spokeswoman said. Travellers with flights to China and Hong Kong can switch destinations without a fee, but they may not cancel free of charge, she said. Earlier, Russian tour operators stopped selling package holidays to China.
Such measures by foreign tour operators are likely to deepen concerns about the potential long-term damage to the global tourism and airline industries. More than 140 million foreign tourists visited the country last year, according to industry estimates.
Many of China’s top tourist attractions including Shanghai Disney and the Forbidden City in Beijing are closed until further notice to try to contain the spread.
Hong Kong announced it would bar entry to visitors from the province at the center of the outbreak following a warning the virus’s ability to spread was growing. Travel agencies were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide, adding to the rising economic cost.
The end of the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s busiest travel season, was pushed back to Sunday from Thursday to “reduce mass gatherings” and “block the spread of the epidemic,” a Cabinet statement said.
The government of Shanghai, a metropolis of 25 million people and a global business center, extended the holiday by an additional week within the city to Feb. 9. It ordered sports stadiums and religious events closed.
South Korea confirmed its fourth case on Monday. Cases also have been confirmed in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, the US, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada and Australia.
On Monday, China’s No.2 leader, Premier Li Keqiang, visited Wuhan to “guide epidemic prevention work,” the Cabinet website said. Photos on the site showed Li, in a blue smock and green face mask, meeting hospital employees.
Later, the premier, wearing a face mask and a dark windbreaker, visited a supermarket. Shoppers, also wearing masks, cheered to him, “Happy New Year!”
“To get the epidemic under control in Wuhan and the good health of people in Wuhan will be good news for the whole country,” Li told the crowd. “We wish the people of Wuhan a safe, healthy and long life. Let’s go, Wuhan!”
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre said it is "caring for a patient who has a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China.” Officials said the man is his 50s and recently flew from Wuhan, China to Guangzhou, China and then on to Toronto on Jan. 23.
The deadly virus, which experts believe emanated from a wild animal market in the city of Wuhan last month, has triggered a desperate Chinese containment effort after spreading nationwide and to more than a dozen other countries.
Markets in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China were closed Tuesday for Lunar New Year holidays, while South Korea's benchmark tumbled 3.1% to 2,176.72 as it reopened after its own holidays.
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