Coronavirus Outbreak in China: Millions on lockdown | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 24, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 05:15 PM, January 28, 2020

Coronavirus Outbreak in China: Millions on lockdown

Wuhan, Huanggang shut transport links, outgoing flights as Singapore confirms first case;17 deaths reported so far

China put millions of people on lock down in two cities yesterday at the epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected more than 630, as authorities around the world worked to prevent a global pandemic.

Health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins tomorrow.

The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Most transport in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was suspended yesterday and people were told not to leave. Hours later, neighbouring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million people, announced a similar lockdown.

“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) representative in Beijing, said.

Other cities were also taking steps to restrict movement and contact.

Nearby Ezhou shut train stations. China’s Education Ministry said schools should not hold large events or exams. The capital cancelled major public events, including two Lunar New Year temple fairs, the state-run Beijing News said.

Airports worldwide were screening passengers arriving from China. Hong Kong, which has two confirmed cases, is turning two holiday camps into quarantine stations as a precaution. Taiwan has banned anyone from Wuhan from going to the island.

Singapore yesterday confirmed its first case of the new SARS-like virus. The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday, reports AFP.

An Indian nurse working at a hospital in southern Saudi Arabia has been infected by the coronavirus, India’s minister of state for external affairs said yesterday.

Chinese people had their own ways of protecting themselves.

“I go straight to where I need to go, and then I go home,” said 79-year-old Li Meihua, from behind a mask, on the streets of Shanghai. “My nose is a bit runny already. I’m also maintaining a cleaner diet, I’ve turned vegetarian now.”

There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission. Symptoms include fever, difficulty in breathing and cough, similar to many other respiratory illnesses.

Preliminary research suggested it was passed on to humans from snakes, but government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.

WHO MEETING

The WHO was set to decide yesterday whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, which would step up the international response.

If it does so, it will be the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade. Its Emergency Committee meeting was under way in Geneva and a news conference was expected after 1800 GMT.

Some experts believe the virus is not as dangerous as previous coronaviruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

“The early evidence at this stage would suggest it’s not as severe,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said.

Giving the latest details on infections in China, state television said 634 cases had been confirmed. By the end of Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission confirmed 17 dead.

Of the known cases worldwide, Thailand has confirmed four, while Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States have reported one each.

Imperial College London said on Wednesday it estimated a total of 4,000 cases in Wuhan alone as of January 18, based on the number of cases reported in China and elsewhere.

To try to stem the outbreak, Wuhan shut down all urban transport networks and suspended outgoing flights from 10:00 am. Domestic media said some airlines were operating after the deadline, however.

Its Hankou rail station was nearly deserted, state broadcasts showed. State media reported highway toll booths around Wuhan were closing, effectively cutting off road exits. Guards were patrolling highways, one resident told Reuters.

As the city slipped into isolation, residents thronged into hospitals for checks and scrambled for supplies, clearing out supermarket shelves and queuing for petrol.

Authorities in Huanggang ordered indoor entertainment venues including cinemas and internet cafes to close.

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