A second city in China is in lockdown, as the World Health Organisation considers whether to declare the deadly coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency.
The measure comes as millions of people prepare to travel domestically and abroad for the country’s lunar New Year celebrations which begin at the weekend.
The city of Wuhan, considered the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, is in lockdown. And residents in Huanggang, 45 miles away, have been told not to leave the city other than under special circumstances.
All transport networks – including rail, bus, underground, ferries and outgoing flights – have been suspended in Wuhan, and its 11 million residents have been ordered to wear masks in public places and at work.
Footage posted online showed empty shelves in supermarkets as households stocked up for what could be weeks of relative isolation, as part of the action to control the outbreak.
Image: Chinese paramilitary officers stand guard outside a shut Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan
“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” said Gauden Galea, the WHO’s representative in China.
“It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”
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Similar measures are being enforced in Huanggang, which has a population of six million. Bus and train services are being suspended and entertainment venues including cinemas and internet cafes told to shut.
Image: The virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan’s seafood market
Overnight, the Chinese government released a breakdown of the details of the 17 people known to have been killed by the deadly virus.
All but two of the 13 men and four women were aged over 60. Ten of the victims had a pre-existing condition.
Overall, 591 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed by Chinese authorities.
Chinese city sealed off after deadly virus outbreak
There is no vaccine for the new viral infection, which can cause pneumonia and can be passed from person to person.
The symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.
Though the origin of the virus has yet to be identified, the WHO has said the primary source is probably an animal.
China has also stepped up its co-operation with the organisation, which is holding an emergency meeting to determine whether the outbreak of the new coronavirus constitutes a global health emergency.
Image: There is no vaccine for the new viral infection
The virus originated in the central city of Wuhan in Hubei province at the end of last year and has since spread to Beijing and Shanghai.
Four cases have been found in Thailand, two in Hong Kong and the autonomous region of Macau, and one each in the US, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. All of these involve people who had recently been in Wuhan.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of travellers arriving from affected regions.
Measures are also in force in the UK to guard against the virus, including taking aircraft to a special designated area of Heathrow’s Terminal 4.
China using thermal imaging to screen for virus
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom told Sky News: “We are now routinely checking all flights from Wuhan – obviously this is a huge concern for the world but in particular for that city in China, which I understand is now in lockdown.
“We will of course be guided by all of the advice that comes from the world health authorities and also from the evidence that’s coming out of China itself.
“I think everybody will be worried in principle but obviously it’s important to have a measured reaction.”
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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses ranging from the common cold to severe diseases such as SARS – which killed nearly 800 people during the 2002-03 outbreak.
When a new strain emerges that has not yet been identified, as with the current outbreak, it becomes known as a novel coronavirus (nCoV).
Source : Sky News