Medical workers in Hong Kong are staging a second consecutive day of strikes Tuesday as the Chinese territory reports its first death from a coronavirus that has killed 425 people in mainland China.
Hong Kong shut down nearly all land and sea border crossings with the mainland at midnight local time after more than 2,000 medical workers walked off the job Monday demanding that all border crossings be closed completely. Hong Kong was hit hard by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-03.
Hong Kong health authorities have identified the victim as a 39-year-old male with a pre-existing illness who had recently visited Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Meanwhile, the Chinese gambling territory of Macau announced Tuesday that it will temporarily shut down all casino operations for two weeks to help curb the spread of the virus.
The total number of confirmed cases of people sickened by the new coronavirus in China has soared above 20,000. There are about 150 confirmed cases in 23 other countries. On Sunday, the Philippines reported the first coronavirus death outside of China.
A new study published Monday in the journal Nature said experts from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which specializes in the study of viruses, say the new virus is 96% genetically identical to a virus found in bats in southern China's Yunnan province.
The study said the new coronavirus is 80% genetically similar to the SARS virus that killed more than 800 people in 2002 and 2003.
Chinese official does not know exactly how the virus could have been transmitted from animals to people but believe open-air markets in China, where wild and domesticated animals are sold, maybe a contributor.
The World Health Organization said it expects the number of cases to grow as test results are returned on thousands of pending cases.
Chinese authorities have tried to stop the spread by instituting bans on movement in certain regions and extending holidays to keep people away from schools and other large gatherings.
But China is upset that a number of countries are restricting travelers from China from crossing their borders.
Government spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused the United States of spreading fear and not offering any substantial assistance in response to the outbreak.
She said Washington has “unceasingly manufactured and spread panic," noting that the WHO has advised against travel restrictions.
President Donald Trump has offered to send experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to China, but Beijing has yet to accept the offer of help.
The United States began mandatory 14-day quarantines Sunday for U.S. citizens who had been in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. But non-U.S. citizens who have been in China over the past two weeks are barred.
Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said Monday the United States is already prepared to provide housing for up to 1,000 people who may need to be quarantined. He also said the United States is “always planning for eventualities and how we may be asked by civilian partners to assist.”