The toll in the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak rose to 56 on Saturday night, state-run Xinhua news agency reported quoting the Chinese National Health Commission. Chinese health authorities reported 1,975 confirmed cases, and a total of 2,684 suspected cases. As many as 324 people are said to be in a critical condition.

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that the spread of the virus is accelerating and called it a “grave situation”, BBC reported. From Sunday, private vehicles will be banned from the central districts of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.

“Life is of paramount importance,” Xi said at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. “When an epidemic breaks out, a command is issued. It is our responsibility to prevent and control it.”

At the meeting, it was decided that a Communist Party of China Central Committee leading group would be set up to oversee the work of controlling the virus. It was also decided that groups will be sent to Hubei province to direct work on the ground, and civilian and military medical resources would be coordinated to strengthen efforts to fight the virus.

About 56 million people across at least 18 cities were under lockdown in China as of Saturday. Most major cities have banned public gatherings over the Lunar New Year holiday. The outbreak has stoked fears of a pandemic similar to the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that also started in China and killed nearly 800 people.

China on Saturday began building a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan that is expected to be completed in 10 days. Several cities in China, including Shanghai and Beijing, and provinces such as Hubei, Hunan, Zhejiang, Anhui and Guangdong have raised the emergency response to public health safety to level 1, the highest. The outbreak has cast a shadow over Lunar New Year celebrations in China, which began on Saturday. Hundreds of millions of people in China were expected to travel over the New Year period.

The first cases of the illness were also reported from Australia and France. France announced two cases of the virus on Friday, becoming the first country in Europe to do so. Australia reported its first coronavirus case on Saturday.

Apart from Australia and France, the virus has spread to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Nepal, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States. As many as 28 cases have been confirmed outside China.

In India

In India, nearly 200 people have been kept under observation in Kerala and Maharashtra, following screening for possible exposure to the virus, PTI reported. The Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday reviewed India’s preparedness to deal with the situation.

No positive case has been detected in the country so far, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Saturday. However, he added that seven samples were sent to the Indian Council of Medical Research in Pune.

A senior health official of the Kerala government told PTI that 179 people were under home surveillance and seven were in various hospitals. One person each from Thrissur, Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta and Malappuram and three from Ernakulam are in the isolation wards of various health centres in the state.

In Maharashtra, two of the three persons admitted to a hospital in Mumbai had tested negative for the virus. The medical results of the third individual are awaited.

Meanwhile, India has requested China to permit over 250 Indian students stuck in Wuhan to leave the city, PTI reported citing unidentified officials. The Indian government has made the requests to both the Chinese Foreign Ministry and local officials. Around 700 Indian students study in Wuhan and neighbouring areas but many managed to leave the city just before it was sealed off on January 23.

Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Sunday that the Indian embassy in Beijing was constantly checking on the health and well-being of Indians in China. “Our embassy in Beijing is constantly checking on the health and well-being of the Indians in China,” Jaishankar tweeted. “Please follow @EOIBeijing for more updates on the situation.”

The minister also shared tweets by the Indian embassy. The embassy said it had created two hotlines to address the concerns of Indians in China.

The Union Health Ministry had said on Saturday that 20,844 passengers have been medically screened at Indian airports till Friday for symptoms of coronavirus infection.