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January 24, 2020

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China puts 7 cities under lockdown to stem the spread of new virus

CHINA put seven cities in Hubei Province on lockdown yesterday as authorities struggle to deal with the new coronavirus outbreak that has killed 18 people and infected over 600.

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.

Authorities in China reported yesterday the first death outside of Hubei, where the new virus epidemic is believed to have originated. The health commission in northern Hebei Province said in a statement that an 80-year-old man diagnosed with the new virus died on Wednesday.

All public transportation, including city buses, subways, ferries and long-distance coaches in Wuhan in central China were suspended yesterday, and outbound channels at airports and railway stations have also been closed until further notice.

Citizens have been told not leave the megacity of 11 million people without specific reasons, according to a notice issued by Wuhan’s headquarters for the control and treatment of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus.

Winter holiday for the city’s school students will be prolonged. School will remain closed until further notice.

Ezhou near Wuhan, believed to be the epicenter of the virus, shut its train stations. Hours later, neighboring Huanggang, a city of some 6 million people, said it was imposing a similar lockdown.

Authorities in Huanggang also ordered indoor entertainment venues including cinemas and Internet cafes to close and were asking citizens not to leave other than under special circumstances, state media said.

Authorities in Xiantao, a city of 1.5 million, said 30 toll station entrances were closed on the Hubei Expressway, prohibiting vehicles from entering the roadway.

Chibi, Zhijiang, and Qianjiang also said they would be suspending its public, rural, provincial and county passenger transport from midnight.

China will also close Beijing’s Forbidden City, one of the country’s most revered cultural sites, the Palace Museum said yesterday.

The sprawling imperial palace will close on Saturday until further notice “in order to avoid cross-infection caused by the gathering of people,” it said through its official Twitter-like Weibo account.

Beijing also canceled massive gatherings that usually attract throngs at temples during the New Year holiday.

Chinese 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 Chinese New Year, which begins today.

At about 10:15am yesterday, all Metro stations in Wuhan had been closed. A Xinhua reporter went to a public transport hub and was told all buses “returned to the parking lot by 11am.”

All the entrances at the Wuhan Railway Station and many expressway entrances in Hubei Province, where Wuhan is located, have been closed. Some passengers were stranded at the stations or airports.

CCTV images of one of Wuhan’s transport hubs, the Hankou rail station, nearly deserted, with gates blocked or barred.

Hundreds of flights from or to Wuhan had been canceled yesterday. The Civil Aviation Administration of China said 288 flights had been canceled as of 11:30am.

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

Many local residents are busy purchasing food and daily necessities for the upcoming Spring Festival. According to the provincial commerce department, the province will strengthen the monitoring of grain, oil, meat, eggs and vegetables, increase stocks during the Spring Festival holiday to ensure stable supply, and intensify environmental sanitation control.

“About 70 percent of the vegetables in Wuhan come from other provinces and regions. The price has gone up slightly, but there has been no panic-buying,” said a local vendor in Wuchang District of the city.

Medical consumables such as surgical masks, protective clothing and disinfectant are running short. The Red Cross Society of China’s Wuhan branch opened 24-hour hotlines to receive donated emergency stocks.

All seven Chinese movies set to be aired during the Spring Festival holiday have been canceled or postponed. The total Chinese box office during the holiday exceeded 5 billion yuan (US$724.6 million) during last year’s Lunar New Year holiday.

Of 10 known cases worldwide, Thailand has confirmed four, Vietnam confirmed two while Japan, South Korea, the United States, and Singapore have reported one each.

During a visit to Wuhan, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said authorities needed to be open about the virus and efforts to contain it, Xinhua news agency said.

The World Health Organization has said it will decide late 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.

Some experts believe the new virus is not as dangerous as previous coronaviruses such as 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 told reporters.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva that China’s actions were “very strong” but called on it to take “more and significant measures to limit or minimise the international spread.”

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

Many Chinese were canceling trips, buying face masks and avoiding cinemas and shopping centers.

Authorities are giving full refunds on bookings made on all Chinese airlines.

China’s railway operator will allow passengers to cancel their tickets nationwide without charging fees. The measure comes into effect from today.


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