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Coronavirus

China braces for 160m travelers returning to work

Post-holiday rush reignites alarm over virus spread as deaths exceed 1,000

Passengers on a Beijing subway: A total of 38 Chinese cities have reopened public transit systems that had been shut down to curb the spread of the coronavirus.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- China expects 160 million people to travel between Tuesday and Feb. 18 as the Lunar New Year holiday season ends, giving the coronavirus outbreak more opportunities to spread just as the rate of new infections has begun to decline.

A total of 2,478 new cases were confirmed in mainland China on Monday, according to the National Health Commission, bringing the cumulative total to 42,638. This was 584 fewer new cases than on Sunday and the smallest increase since Jan. 31. But the upcoming travel rush risks reversing the slowing trend.

Certain provincial and municipal governments have taken such steps as blocking access to highways in a bid to keep infected people out. A senior Transport Ministry official stressed in a news conference Tuesday that local authorities are strictly prohibited from closing expressways or obstructing emergency vehicles.

As of Monday, 38 cities had reopened public transportation systems, out of 428 cities that had suspended transit over the virus.

Despite the slowdown in new coronavirus cases, the number of fatalities has continued to climb steadily, topping 1,000 on Monday. Official data showed 108 deaths in mainland China that day -- the first single-day tally above 100 -- lifting the total there to 1,016.

The epidemic has killed more people in about a month than severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, did over its entire course from November 2002 to July 2003.

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