Coronavirus threat grows with 17 dead and three cities in China under lockdown

23 January 2020, 10:42

Wuhan's local transport networks - including bus, subway and ferries - will also be suspended from 10am on Thursday
Wuhan's local transport networks - including bus, subway and ferries - will also be suspended from 10am on Thursday. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Three cities in China have now been placed under quarantine as the killer coronavirus continues to sweep through the country.

The death toll so far stands at 17, with millions of people ordered not to travel or attempt to leave three major cities.

All transport in Wuhan - including rail, bus, subway and ferries is suspended. Residents have been ordered to wear masks in public places and at work and are being advised not to leave the city.

The city of Huanggang today became the second in China to stop its public transport and tell residents not to leave in a bid to stop the new coronavirus.

The third to be placed on lockdown was Ezhou, which has banned public transport in an attempt to contain any further spread.

Travellers flying into British airports are being screened for signs of illness.

People in Wuhan have been advised not to leave the city, in a week when millions of Chinese tourists would normally travel for the upcoming Lunar new year festivities.

"To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science," said Gauden Galea, the World Health Organisation'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."

The Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to the central Chinese city and the World Health Organisation is set to make a decision on declaring an international health emergency would be made on Thursday.

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As the death toll rises around the globe screening for signs of the virus is in place at major US airports, while the UK's Transport Secretary told reporters a separate area has been set up at Heathrow to monitor arrivals from the city.

Chinese authorities announce the death toll had risen to 17, with more than 500 confirmed cases, the respiratory illness has spread to other parts of China, with some cases in other countries including the US.

The Chinese state-owned People's Daily newspaper said in a tweet that no one would be allowed to leave the city starting at 10am local time and that train stations and the airport will shut down.

It said that Wuhan authorities would also be shutting down city buses, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses.

The appeal came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) convened a group of independent experts to advise whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.

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Director general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said more information was needed about the spread of the infection. The committee of health experts will meet again on Thursday.

Hospital staff were sworn in as part of an 'assault team' to tackle the virus
Hospital staff were sworn in as part of an 'assault team' to tackle the virus. Picture: PA

The number of new cases has risen sharply in China, the centre of the outbreak. Seventeen people have died, all in Hubei province, since the outbreak emerged in its provincial capital of Wuhan late last month. The province has confirmed 444 cases there.

Coronavirus: Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to Wuhan

Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, said: "There has already been human-to-human transmission and infection of medical workers.

"Evidence has shown that the disease has been transmitted through the respiratory tract and there is the possibility of viral mutation."

The risk to the UK population has been upgraded from very low to low by Public Health England.

Baroness Blackwood told the House of Lords that the risk to UK citizens "is currently low" but the country is "well prepared" should cases of the disease be detected on British soil.

She told peers that the Government is "monitoring closely the development of this virus."