China locks down epicentre of virus outbreak

Nearly 600 infected

A child wears mask to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus at the Hong Kong West Kowloon High Speed Train Station, in Hong Kong, China January 23, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

China is putting on lockdown a city of 11 million people considered the epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 and infected nearly 600 people, as health authorities around the world work to prevent a global pandemic.

Global health authorities fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

The previously unknown coronavirus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Cases have been detected as far away as the United States, stoking fears the virus is already spreading worldwide. 

Wuhan’s local government said it would shut down all urban transport networks and suspend outgoing flights from the city as of 10 a.m. (0200 GMT) Thursday, state media reported. Local media reported some airlines were operating after the deadline.

The government is urging citizens to not leave the city in the absence of special circumstances. 

Contrasting with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people, China’s communist government has this time given regular updates to avoid panic ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.

Chinese authorities have confirmed 571 cases and 17 deaths as of end-Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission said on Thursday. The commission said another 393 suspected cases had been reported.

There are eight other known cases around the world – Thailand has confirmed four cases, while the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have each reported one.

At least 16 people who had close contact with a Washington state man diagnosed with the virus and are being monitored.