Authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan have been ordered to round up everyone with the deadly coronavirus and send them to mass quarantine camps.
The drastic move came as Chinese state television reported the number of deaths in Hubei province from the virus rose by 69 to 618 late on Thursday.
A further 2447 cases have been detected in Hubei, the epicentre of the lethal outbreak, taking the total in the region to 22,112.
With the infection and death toll rising every day, Sun Chunlan, a vice-premier who is leading Beijing’s response to the outbreak has told city investigators to go house to house to check the temperatures of all residents and interview close contacts of anyone infected with the virus.
“Set up a 24-hour duty system. During these wartime conditions, there must be no deserters, or they will be nailed to the pillar of historical shame forever,” Ms Sun said, according to reports in The New York Times.
Also on Thursday, it was confirmed that a whistleblowing doctor who was reprimanded for “spreading rumours” about the coronavirus before it was officially recognised has died.
Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at a hospital in Wuhan, was one of eight people reprimanded by police last month for spreading “illegal and false” information about the coronavirus. Dr Li had been hospitalised with the virus since January 12, and died on Friday morning, according to the hospital where he worked.
He was one of 635 people to die from nearly 31,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
His death follows the introduction of draconian laws in the northern Heilongjiang province that threaten up to 15 years’ jail for anyone who “spreads rumours” about the disease, and execution for anyone who intentionally infects other people.
The cases include 15 in Australia: Five in Queensland, four each in NSW and Victoria and two in South Australia.
Japanese health officials have also confirmed 61 passengers, including two Australians, have tested positive for the virus on a cruise ship anchored off the port of Yokohama.
About 3700 people, including more than 200 Australians, face at least a fortnight quarantined on the Diamond Princess.