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Coronavirus Is ‘Accelerating’ and Carriers Can Spread it Before They Have Symptoms

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.China’s health minister has warned that the coronavirus “epidemic is accelerating” as officials revealed the virus can be spread by people who are showing no signs of infection. China on Monday extended its annual New Year break by three days in another desperate…

Coronavirus Is ‘Accelerating’ and Carriers Can Spread it Before They Have Symptoms

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

China’s health minister has warned that the coronavirus “epidemic is accelerating” as officials revealed the virus can be spread by people who are showing no signs of infection.

China on Monday extended its annual New Year break by three days in another desperate bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus as the number of people infected rushes towards 3,000.

The unprecedented move to extend the Lunar New Year holiday until Sunday is just one of a range of radical steps the Chinese government took over the weekend to try to limit the spread of the virus, which is now known to have killed at least 81 people and infected 2,744.

The rate of infection is increasing rapidly, with 769 cases reported in the 24 hours between midnight Saturday and midnight Sunday.

As well as extending the holiday, the government has ordered schools to remain closed until further notice, banned the sale of wildlife, and imposed more travel restrictions on cities in the central province of Hubei, where the outbreak originated.

In total, more than 50 million people are now under severe travel restrictions in 17 cities across Hubei province as part of the most far-reaching disease-control measures ever imposed.

News of the increasingly dramatic efforts to contain the coronavirus, which causes acute respiratory infection, came as scientists in China confirmed Sunday that the virus can spread during its incubation period.

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The news means that, unlike with SARS and Ebola, carriers of the coronavirus can infect others before their symptoms appear. Because scientists believe that carriers can be asymptomatic for between one and 14 days, this makes containing the spread of the coronavirus much more difficult.

READ: Scientists now think they know what started China’s deadly coronavirus: bats

Health Minister Ma Xiaowei told reporters that the virus’ ability to spread is strengthening.

“At present, the rate of development of the epidemic is accelerating,” Ma said at the press conference. “I am afraid that it will continue for some time, and the number of cases may increase.”

This dire warning was backed up by a report from Professor Gabriel Leung, chair of public health medicine at University of Hong Kong, who submitted a report to the World Health Organization on Monday that claims the number of people infected by the Wuhan coronavirus could potentially double every six days in the absence of a major intervention by public health authorities.

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