TOKYO — China's leader Xi Jinping warned Saturday of an "accelerating spread" of the coronavirus, adding to worries about the scope of a health crisis that has claimed at least 56 lives and triggered emergency health measures in cities across China.

Xi's remarks of a "grave" situation came as China kicked off its traditional New Year's celebrations amid a backdrop of caution and stark measures seeking to contain the virus.

At least 48 million people were ordered on lockdown in central China with a travel ban covering 15 cities in the central Hubei province, where the virus was first encountered. Here's what we know:

●Hong Kong announced that its schools would be closed until Feb. 17 to try to limit the possibility of transmission.

●The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a second person in the United States has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

●Infections have been confirmed in France, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Australia and the United States. We’re mapping the spread here.

●Travel bans were extended in central China to put tens of millions of people effectively on local lockdowns. In Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, workers are racing to build a 1,000-bed hospital.

●Authorities around China, including in the capital, Beijing, have canceled the temple fairs and festivals that accompany the Spring Festival to avoid having large public gatherings where the airborne virus could spread.

1:35 a.m.
Link copied
link

South Korea reports third case of coronavirus

WASHINGTON —A third case of coronavirus has been confirmed in South Korea, according to a state-funded news organization. The patient is a 54-year-old South Korean man who on Monday returned to the country from Wuhan. He had been kept in isolation since he reported symptoms on Saturday.

1:00 a.m.
Link copied
link

China announces a coronavirus death in Shanghai

WASHINGTON —An 88-year-old man in Shanghai has died from coronavirus, bringing the total number of deaths to 56, Chinese state-run media reported. The number of confirmed cases of the virus in China also has continued to rise and on Sunday morning, local time, totaled more than 1,900.

11:55 p.m.
Link copied
link

13 new deaths from coronavirus announced in China

WASHINGTON — China announced Sunday morning, local time, that 13 more people have died from coronavirus and 323 additional cases have been confirmed in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. The new information brings the number of confirmed cases worldwide to more than 1,700 and the number of deaths to 55.

8:50 p.m.
Link copied
link

Coronavirus patients are spreading disease to two to three people each, researchers say

WASHINGTON — Those infected with coronavirus are transmitting the disease to two to three people each, two studies have found, helping to explain the virus's rapid spread.

Officials must stop more than 60 percent of the virus's transmission to control the outbreak, the scientists said, which will be a challenge because it is clear the disease is being passed human to human.

China has taken a series of drastic steps in recent days to try to contain the outbreak, including a quarantine of 48 million citizens, halting inter-province buses to and from Beijing and suspending all tour groups from journeys outside the country. More than 1,400 people have become infected with the virus and 42 have died.

Scientists still have many questions about the virus, which they are working to understand as quickly as possible. The severity spectrum of the disease remains unclear, and it is not clear whether people with mild symptoms are able to transmit the virus, researchers said.

7:40 p.m.
Link copied
link

China says medical center to be transformed into hospital with more than 1,000 beds

WASHINGTON — Construction workers were rushing to transform a medical center in Huanggang, a city also under quarantine about 30 miles from Wuhan, into a hospital with more than 1,000 beds within 48 hours, according to Chinese state media.

More than 500 construction workers were helping to reconstruct the medical center so it can quickly treat the growing number of patients with symptoms of coronavirus. There are more than 1,400 confirmed cases and 42 deaths.

Workers in Wuhan are also racing to build a 1,000-bed hospital to treat victims of the disease. Hospitals in that city have struggled to deal with the outbreak, with accounts emerging of shortages of just about everything. One exhausted doctor died of a heart attack on Thursday while tending patients.

6:40 p.m.
Link copied
link

U.S. is exploring options to help U.S. citizens in Wuhan, but no confirmed plans yet

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Embassy in Beijing is exploring options to help U.S. citizens in Wuhan, but reports that a charter flight was being arranged to bring citizens and diplomats back to the United States are false, according to a voice mail at the embassy.

When a Washington Post reporter called the U.S. embassy in Beijing to inquire about the chartered flight, the reporter was directed to a voicemail that said the reports were false and there were "no confirmed arrangements at this time." Americans in Wuhan who are looking for assistance or are trying to leave the city were directed to an email address.

5:40 p.m.
Link copied
link

On flight from Taipei, a popular carry-on item: Surgical mask

LOS ANGELES — Even the flight attendants for the Eva Air-operated flight from Taipei exited the customs gate in immaculate uniforms with matching face masks.

Anthony Su, 53 — who traveled through Taipei en route to his home in California after 10 days in Fuzhou, a city in southeastern China — said 90 percent of travelers on his flight wore masks. The airport wasn’t handing them out, he said. The passengers brought them themselves in attempts to protect against the coronavirus spreading from China.

When he first heard about the outbreak in China, Su said he drastically limited his activities.

“I tried to avoid public areas, not go to the restaurant or any public place,” he said.

Another passenger, Thom Wuang, 42, of Pasadena, Calif., said this was the first time he had donned a mask while visiting Taipei.

The timing couldn’t be worse, said Wuang, who was there to celebrate Lunar New Year.

“The Lunar New Year is like American Thanksgiving and Christmas combined,” he said.

5:10 p.m.
Link copied
link

Virus worries mute some holiday celebrations in Seattle area

SEATTLE — About 30 minutes south of the hospital caring for the man with the first confirmed U.S. coronavirus infection, some Chinese Americans in Seattle changed their plans for their biggest holiday of the year to avoid any chance of contact with someone who might be infected.

One woman, who declined to give her name, said she canceled her family’s restaurant reservations for Lunar New Year in favor of dinner at home. She said she doubted she’d be making a Chinese feast either. Out of an abundance of caution, she said she didn’t want to go to the Asian market to buy ingredients.

The Northwest Chinese School, with locations in Bellevue, Wash., and Seattle, sent out an email calling off weekend classes for preschoolers through adults. “We take the health of our students and families very seriously and think that this is the best course of action,” officials wrote.

And on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, a Chinese student association distributed face masks in Red Square, a central hub paved with red bricks. Students were asked to contribute to efforts to send supplies such as face masks and protective suits to China.

4:50 p.m.
Link copied
link

Wildlife market remains under study as possible virus vector

TOKYO -- Health experts say China failed to learn one of the most important lessons of the SARS outbreak eight years ago — that wild animal markets are a potent breeding ground for disease with the possibility of ailments jumping to humans.

SARS was thought to have originated in masked palm civets, tree-dwelling mammals native to parts of Asia. The trigger point for the current coronavirus remains unclear, but scientists are looking closely at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. Despite its name, the market also appeared to be selling live cats and dogs, wild chickens, snakes and marmots.

China implemented controls on wildlife markets after the SARS epidemic, but those controls soon evaporated. The country remains a major consumer of wild and endangered animals for meat, as well as in traditional medicine. The SARS outbreak claimed more than 750 lives in China and other countries.

A study published in the Lancet medical journal Friday confirmed the current outbreak is a new form of coronavirus, which is closest to the SARS-related coronaviruses found in Chinese horseshoe bats.

Some scientists believe another species was involved in transmitting the disease to humans, but no consensus has yet emerged on which animal, with theories ranging from snakes to mink.

4:30 p.m.
Link copied
link

China tour groups blocked from overseas trips

China is suspending all tour groups from journeys outside the country, state media reported, in another attempt to keep the virus from possibly spreading to new regions and countries.

The order could have a wide impact across China. The Lunar New Year holiday, which began Friday, is the busiest time in China for travel and package tour vacations.

Tour groups in the middle of their trips will be able to continue their itineraries, state media reported, but cautioned that travelers’ health should be closely monitored. Earlier Saturday, authorities announced plans to temporarily halt inter-province buses to and from Beijing beginning Sunday.

3:30 p.m.
Link copied
link

Olympic qualifiers moved from Wuhan by IOC

The International Olympic Committee has moved some Summer Games qualifying events from Wuhan after the coronavirus outbreak.

From March 3-11, Amman, Jordan, will host boxing qualifier matches for Asia and Oceana that were originally set for Wuhan next month. A women’s soccer qualifying match beginning Feb. 3 that was also planned for Wuhan has been shifted to Nanjing, China.

3:10 p.m.
Link copied
link

China suspends inter-province bus services to and from Beijing

Chinese authorities announced a halt to all inter-province bus services to and from Beijing in an effort to contain the growing coronavirus outbreak, according to local news reports.

The move was part of wider measures by China to limit movement around the country. Beijing has more than 30 confirmed cases of the virus.

2:55 p.m.
Link copied
link

U.S., France, Russia evacuating citizens from Wuhan

France and Russia were working to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan despite a lockdown on the city as fears about the coronavirus’s rapid spread grew.

France has confirmed three cases of the virus, and the United States has confirmed two, saying at least 50 people are under observation for the illness in 22 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
French officials are working on a plan to evacuate nationals out of Wuhan by allowing them to take a bus to Changsha, about 100 miles southwest of Wuhan, according to the South China Morning Post.

Russian officials are working with China to organize the departure of Russian citizens from Wuhan and the Hubei province, Georgy Egorov, press officer of the Russian Embassy in China, told Russia’s RIA Novosti. Up to 7,000 Russian citizens are on organized tours in China, the executive director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, Maya Lomidze, told Russian news agency Interfax.

On Saturday morning, the Wall Street Journal first reported that the U.S. was arranging a charter flight on Sunday to fly its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan. The U.S. embassy in Beijing said that report was incorrect and options are still being explored.

2:40 p.m.
Link copied
link

China’s Xi warns of ‘grave’ threat posed by the expanding virus

The viral outbreak, during the busy Lunar New Year travel season, has infected more than 1,200 people worldwide so far and posed the biggest public health challenge to the Chinese government in more than a decade.

Xi instructed China’s highest ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee, to “comprehensively mobilize” resources and manpower to provide medical aid, guarantee security and order in hospitals and provide markets with supplies for the strained city of Wuhan, the epidemic’s epicenter.

“As long as we are resolute … we can win the battle of controlling the epidemic,” he told top party leaders, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

The ruling party’s central leadership has formed working groups to directly manage the crisis following reports suggesting that local authorities in Wuhan and the Hubei province did not respond as quickly as possible during the early stages of the outbreak last month.

Officials have announced the emergency construction of two hospitals to treat patients in Wuhan, where existing facilities have been overfilled and medical personnel have been collapsing from exhaustion.

More than a dozen cities in Hubei have been effectively locked down, and flights have been restricted at Wuhan, the regional hub.