Authorities in China have stopped people returning to work until 3 February in an attempt to control the novel coronavirus outbreak

chinese new year

The Chinese new year holiday period is being used to contain the coronavirus outbreak (Credit: LydiaShiningBrightly/Flickr)

The Chinese government has extended the country’s Lunar New Year holiday by three days to help contain the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The national public holiday will continue until 2 February, and several major businesses are thought to be telling employees to work from home as the virus continues to spread.

The General Office of the State Council in China made the announcement on 27 January, in an attempt to “effectively reduce mass gatherings, block the spread of the epidemic, and to better safeguard the safety and health of the Chinese people”.

The Lunar New Year holiday began on 24 January and was originally supposed to end on 30 January.

In Shanghai, the government has also told businesses to stop employees coming back to work until 10 February – although some industries, including medical firms and suppliers, and supermarkets, are exempt.

Universities, primary and middle schools, and kindergartens across China have been told to postpone the start of their spring terms until further notice.


Novel coronavirus outbreak continues to spread

As of 27 January, the novel coronavirus has claimed at least 81 lives in China, with more than 2,800 confirmed cases across the country.

President Xi Jinping said the spread of the infection is accelerating, and described the growing epidemic as a “grave situation”.

Infections and the death toll continue to rise in the country, and several major cities in the Hubei province — including Wuhan, its capital — are now in lockdown.

No trains or planes are being allowed in or out of Wuhan, where the first cases of the virus emerged in December 2019, in an attempt to control the virus.

Travel restrictions across China are now affecting close to 35 million people, and several countries across Asia are also screening air passengers arriving from China.

coronavirus outbreak wuhan
Coronaviruses, like the one that originated in Wuhan, and the SARS and MERS outbreaks, often cause flu-like symptoms (Credit: CDC/Dr Fred Murphy)

Despite these measures, there have now been confirmed cases of infection in many Asian countries, including Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Vietnam.

There are five reported cases in the US, and the first infections in Australia and France have also been confirmed.

While there are no known cases in the UK — as of 27 January — 52 patients have been tested for the virus, and Public Health England medical director Professor Paul Cosford told the BBC that future cases are “highly likely”.

On 23 January 2020, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in an announcement that it was too early to declare the situation as a global emergency.

But Ghebreyesus recently said he will visit Beijing to meet health and government officials, and assess the coronavirus outbreak.