A SECOND Chinese city will go into lockdown in an effort to control the spread of a new virus that has left 17 dead in the country.
Authorities have suspended planes and trains in and out of Wuhan — a city of 11 million people — as well as all public transport within the city.
Similar measures will take effect in nearby Huanggang, a city of more than seven million, as of midnight.
There are more than 500 confirmed cases of the virus, which has spread abroad.
Singapore is the latest country to have registered a confirmed case. The 66-year-old man had travelled to the city state from Wuhan and is being held in an isolation room.
The new strain of coronavirus is believed to have originated at a market in Wuhan. One resident of the city said the atmosphere felt like “the end of the world”.
The lockdown comes as millions of Chinese people travel across the country for the forthcoming Lunar New Year holiday.
What’s the latest in China?
Wuhan’s public transport lockdown came into force as of 10:00 local time (02:00 GMT), leaving normally busy train stations and airports empty.
Health authorities are reported to have made wearing a mask mandatory in the city. They are advising people to avoid crowds and public gatherings.
Demand for rubber gloves and surgical masks has soared. Taobao, the Chinese online retail giant, has warned sellers not to profit from the outbreak by raising prices.
Hours after Wuhan’s lockdown came into force, authorities in Huanggang – east of Wuhan — announced a suspension of the city’s bus and rail system from midnight, and encouraged people not to leave the city.
Cafes, cinemas, theatres and exhibitions in both cities have been shut.
Other cities are also taking action. Ezhou — a city of more than a million people just south of Huanggang — announced it had shut its train stations, while the Chinese capital Beijing announced it had cancelled all major Chinese New Year celebrations.
All the fatalities so far have been in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. Most of the 17 victims were elderly and suffered from other chronic diseases including Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.
The virus is now spreading at an alarming rate. The hospitals have been flooding with thousands of patients, who wait hours to see a doctor — you can imagine their panic.
Normally Wuhan is a great place to live and we are proud of our work – specialists here have developed a guide for coronavirus diagnosis and treatment.
But I am scared because this is a new virus and the figures are worrying.
Two days ago we were told not to go to work because of the risk of contamination. If we leave our home on the hospital campus, we are required to wear masks.
We don’t want to take our two-year-old son outside. He’s sleeping now, and we are trying to protect him as much as possible — handwashing, airing the apartment, avoiding contact with people.
Outside I can barely see anyone on the streets. We have been told to avoid gatherings.
I went to the supermarket to buy food, but there was nothing left – no vegetables or biscuits. Some Lunar New Year celebrations are cancelled.
People had bought tickets to go home for Lunar New Year but they can’t go now. Everyone is stuck here and can’t leave.
What do we know about the virus?
Currently known as 2019-nCoV, the virus is understood to be a new strain of coronavirus not previously identified in humans. The Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that killed nearly 800 people globally in the early 2000s was also a coronavirus, as is the common cold.
Authorities have said this new virus originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that “conducted illegal transactions of wild animals”. The market has been shut down since the beginning of the year.
Some researchers have suggested the illness may have originated in snakes. A study published on Wednesday in the Journal of Medical Virology said genetic analysis suggests snakes are “the most probable wildlife animal reservoir” for the virus, but this would need to be confirmed by other studies. Other researchers have questioned the claim.
There is also evidence of human-to-human transmission with the virus spreading from patients to family members and healthcare workers.
But understanding more about how the virus transmits between people is one of the major outstanding questions in this outbreak.
The virus infects the lungs, and symptoms start with a fever and cough. It can progress to shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
The World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee is still debating whether or not to declare a “global emergency” over the new virus.
A global emergency is the highest level of alarm the WHO can sound, and has previously been used in response to swine flu, Zika virus and Ebola.
What’s the picture globally?
Authorities around the world have announced screening measures for passengers from China.
Thailand has confirmed four cases of the virus, the most outside China. The US, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and now Singapore have all reported one case each.
Singapore said it also had a second suspected case, a 53-year-old woman from Wuhan. Both patients had taken themselves to hospitals suffering typical symptoms.
The first US case was confirmed on Tuesday. President Donald Trump said the situation was “totally under control” and that he trusted the information being provided by Chinese authorities. — BBC