By Sunita Patel-Carstairs and David Mercer, news reporters
Three cities in China are being locked down in an effort to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus which has now killed 18 people.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is considering whether to declare a global health emergency over the outbreak, as millions of people in China prepare to travel domestically and abroad for its lunar New Year celebrations this weekend.
An 80-year-old patient with the new coronavirus died in China’s Hebei province on Thursday – the first confirmed death outside Hubei province where the outbreak began.
Chinese authorities have moved to lock down three cities with a combined population of more than 18 million people in response to the outbreak, with more than 600 cases confirmed.
In the city of Wuhan, considered the epicentre of the outbreak, the airport and train station have been shut down, while ferry, subway and bus services have been halted.
The city’s 11 million residents have been ordered to wear masks in public places and at work.
People were pictured stocking up on fuel and empty shelves in supermarkets ahead of what could be weeks of relative isolation.
More from China
Image: Supermarket shelves in Wuhan empty as residents stockpile goods while the city is in lockdown
Similar measures are being enforced in the city of Huanggang, which has a population of six million, as bus and train services were suspended and cinemas and internet cafes were told to shut.
Meanwhile, nearby Ezhou has shut its train stations, and the Chinese capital Beijing has cancelled major public events including two New Year temple fairs, as part of the action to control the outbreak.
Sky’s Asia correspondent Tom Cheshire, who has been in Wuhan, said: “What had previously been a quiet, tense atmosphere in Wuhan, is now a lot edgier.
“We found another driver; he picked us up and we made our way north. Many people had the same idea. They let everyone through the checkpoint without incident.
“The military were there with thermometers, but no checks were made. Now the city, cut off, must cope on its own.”
Image: Wuhan residents shop for supplies for what could be weeks of isolation
“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.”
Meanwhile, China’s state railway group is offering passengers free refunds amid the the coronavirus outbreak.
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, more than 600 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed by Chinese authorities. Four people in Scotland are being tested over fears they have the illness.
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: People in Hong Kong – where there are two confirmed cases -are wearing masks to protect themselves against the virus
Image: More than 600 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed
The virus originated in the central city of Wuhan in Hubei province at the end of last year and has since spread to 25 provinces across mainland China.
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, Japan and Singapore.
Airports around the world – including in Dubai, Australia and South Africa – 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.
The Foreign office is advising against all but essential travel to Wuhan.
China using thermal imaging to screen for virus
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “the number of deaths and cases are likely to be higher than those that have been confirmed so far”.
In a statement to MPs in the Commons on Thursday, he said “there are no confirmed cases of this new infection in the UK so far” and that Britain will continue to closely monitor the situation in Wuhan.
He said that while Public Health England had upgraded the coronavirus risk in the UK from “very low” to “low”, the cabinet minister added, “we are well prepared and well equipped” to deal with any cases should they arise.
“We will remain vigilant, and keep our response under constant review in the light of emerging scientific evidence,” he said.
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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