China postpones parliament for first time in decades amid coronavirus outbreak

sofirinaja/iStock(LONDON) — China has postponed its most important political gathering as the country struggles to contain a deadly coronavirus outbreak, according to state media.

The nation’s top legislature approved a draft decision on Monday to delay the annual parliament session set to take place in Beijing in March. A new date will be decided at a later time, according to state media outlet CGTN, which is owned by CCTV, the national media organization of China.

It’s the first time in decades that the assembly has been postponed, since the Cultural Revolution.

The news came as the number of deaths in the country from the novel coronavirus topped 2,500.

As of Monday, China’s National Health Commission said it has received 77,150 reports of confirmed cases and 2,592 deaths on the Chinese mainland. More than 83% of the cases and all but one death were in Hubei province, where the outbreak emerged in its capital, Wuhan, back in December. Chinese authorities have since placed the city under lockdown.

An additional 112 confirmed infections have been reported in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao as well as Taiwan, with two deaths in Hong Kong and one in Taiwan, according to China’s National Health Commission.

The newly discovered virus, known officially as COVID-19, has spread overseas, with at least 1,769 confirmed cases in 28 countries, including the United States, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.

There have been at least 17 deaths reported outside of China, bringing the worldwide death toll to 2,612.

Japan and South Korea have the second- and third-highest national totals behind China, respectively.

A vast majority of Japan’s cases were from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined at Yokohama port since Feb. 5. Over 600 people on board have tested positive for COVID-19 and were brought ashore for treatment, while the rest were confined to their rooms until the quarantine period ends. Passengers who have tested negative for the virus have been disembarking the ship since last Wednesday.

Another passenger who had been hospitalized after being diagnosed with the disease died on Sunday, marking the third fatality from the ship, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. All three fatalities were Japanese nationals who were in their 80s.

Meanwhile, South Korea reported another spike in new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing its total to 833 cases with seven deaths. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has raised the national alert level for the virus to “highest,” the first time the country has done so in 11 years.

The WHO has yet to confirm the latest cases in South Korea.

The virus has also hit northern Italy, where the number of infections rapidly increased to 76 on Sunday. At least two people have died, according to the WHO.

The cluster of cases has prompted officials to suspend public gatherings, demonstrations and sporting events, as well as close schools, restaurants and businesses, in order to contain the virus, Italian Minister of Health Roberto Speranza said during a Friday news conference.

Iran reported 10 more confirmed cases on Sunday, bringing its national total to 28. At least five people have died, according to the WHO.

So far in the United States, at least 35 people have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes 21 Americans repatriated from either Wuhan, China, or from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

COVID-19 causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, ranging from the mild, such as a slight cough, to the more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the CDC. There is no vaccine yet for the virus.

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