Chinese authorities have begun quarantine measures in the cities of Wuhan, Ezhou, and Huanggang, as the deadly new coronavirus has now affected over 600 people worldwide, with 17 confirmed dead.
As of today, January 23, quarantine measures including halting buses, subways, trains, and ferries have put into place in Wuhan, preventing people from leaving the city. Roads are not officially closed, but as BBC News reports – backed up by footage on social media – there have been reports of roadblocks preventing drivers from getting in or out of Wuhan, where the virus originated from; a city of 11 million residents.
Flights have also been suspended from Wuhan, after cases have been confirmed in Hong Kong, Thailand, Korea, Japan, and the US. Before flights were stopped, BBC News reports that authorities were using cameras to check passengers' body temperatures before they were allowed to board flights, and screening them again upon landing.
A quarantine of this scale has not been attempted before, with the size of the cities making a full lockdown nearly impossible.
“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made,” the World Health Organisation's (WHO) director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases, Dr Gauden Galea told Reuters, adding that sealing off Wuhan is “a very important indication of the commitment to contain the epidemic in the place where it is most concentrated".
Huanggang, a city of 7 million people located around 70 kilometers (30 miles) from Wuhan, is set to have its bus and train networks closed at 4pm local time today and residents have been asked not to leave the city. Twelve cases have been reported there so far. Nearby Ezhou has already shut its train stations.
There are major concerns about the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations this weekend, which sees increased travel around the country. Beijing has canceled all large celebrations in response to the outbreak.
“In order to control the epidemic, protect people’s lives and health, reduce the mass gathering and ensure people to have a harmonious and peaceful Spring Festival, it is decided to cancel all the large-scale events, including temple fairs, in Beijing as of today,” the government said in a statement seen by CNN. There have been 22 cases confirmed in the city so far.
Estimates put the probable number of cases in the thousands worldwide.
The World Health Organization has said it will decide whether or not to declare a global emergency over the outbreak today.
This is an ongoing news story.