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BEIJING — The death toll from the Wuhan coronavirus now stands at 80, with almost 2,800 cases confirmed across China, as the country initiates emergency procedures to try and rein in the pathogen’s global spread.

Making that task more difficult is the fact that the virus can be spread before any symptoms appear, Chinese health authorities said Sunday, meaning carriers may not realize they are infected before they transmit the virus to others.

Across China, 15 cities with a combined population of over 57 million people — more than the entire population of South Korea — have been placed under full or partial lockdown.

Wuhan itself has been effectively quarantined, with all routes in and out of the city closed or highly regulated. The government announced it is sending an additional 1,200 health workers — along with 135 People’s Liberation Army medical personnel — to help the city’s stretched, hospital staff.

Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang said Sunday the number of cases could rise by another thousand.

The disease has also spread widely across China, with almost 70 cases confirmed in the capital Beijing, including a nine-month-old girl — the youngest known case to be confirmed so far.

China has extended the Lunar New Year holiday to February 2 in an attempt to dissuade people from traveling and spreading the virus further. Almost all mass celebrations for the festival have been canceled, and authorities have urged people to avoid holding traditional large family gatherings.

The severity of the emerging crisis is evident in the government’s response. The Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party — the country’s top political body, headed by President Xi Jinping — has taken direct control of operations. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Wuhan Monday to tour local hospitals, according to state media.

More than 11 billion yuan ($1.58 billion) in government funds have been dedicated to the crisis.

Outside mainland China, at least 13 other places have reported cases of the virus, including France, Australia, and the United States. Australia reported its fifth confirmed case Monday.


(PHOTO: Mladen Antonov/Getty Images)