Cases of new viral respiratory illness rise sharply in China

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese health authorities are urging people in the city of Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings after warning that a new viral illness infecting hundreds of people in the country and causing at least nine deaths could spread further.

A national health official says 440 cases are confirmed in China. The nine deaths are all in Hubei province, where the first cases were reported last month.

The illness comes from a new coronavirus that experts say may be spread through the respiratory tract and may be mutating.

An expert meeting convened by the World Health Organization Wednesday will determine whether to declare the outbreak a global health crisis.

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