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China's Xi warns virus is 'accelerating', country facing 'grave situation'

Regions far from the epidemic epicentre, such as Beijing, have also started to clamp down on the flow of people, as the death toll from the virus rises to at least 41.

FILE: Health officers screen arriving passengers from China with thermal scanners at Changi International airport in Singapore on 22 January 2020 as authorities increased measure against coronavirus. Picture: AFP.

BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping warned China was facing a "grave situation" given the "accelerating spread" of a new SARS-like virus that has infected nearly 1,300 people across the country, state media reported Saturday.

"Faced with the grave situation of an accelerating spread of the new coronavirus... it is necessary to strengthen the centralised and unified leadership of the Party Central Committee," Xi said, according to official news agency Xinhua.

The comments come as Chinese authorities scramble to contain the new virus, which first emerged in central Wuhan city, but has spread to at least 30 regions and provinces in China.

GRAPHIC: How deadly coronavirus is transmitted from animals to humans

Graphic explaining the transmission of a coronavirus from animals to humans. Picture: AFP

Wuhan authorities put the city and its 11 million inhabitants under effective quarantine on Thursday - with provincial authorities in Hubei later expanding the transport ban to at least 18 cities.

Regions far from the epidemic epicentre, such as Beijing, have also started to clamp down on the flow of people, as the death toll from the virus rises to at least 41.

On Saturday, the country's capital said it would suspend buses that entered and exited the city boundary, on top of closing tourist attractions and cancelling large-scale events during the Lunar New Year holiday.

"As long as we have steadfast confidence, work together, scientific prevention and cures, and precise policies, we will definitely be able to win the battle," Xi told a meeting of the elite Politburo Standing Committee, according to Xinhua.

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