(AP) – China has closed off a city of more than 11 million people to try to stop the spread of a deadly new virus that has sickened hundreds and spread to other cities and countries in the Lunar New Year travel rush.
People in Wuhan appeared to be going about their daily business, while taking preventive measures. Pharmacies limited sales of face masks as people lined up to buy them. From 10 a.m., virtually no one would be allowed to leave the city. Its train stations and airport were shut down, and subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses were halted.
Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded Wuhan’s train station, with only people holding tickets for the last trains allowed to enter. Virtually everyone at the scene was wearing masks.
An official at the World Heath Organization told The Associated Press that trying to “contain a city of 11 million people is new to science.”
The illnesses from a newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month in Wuhan and the vast majority of China’s 570 cases have occurred there.
The WHO put off deciding whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency following a meeting Wednesday, instead asking its expert committee to continue for a second day.
The U.S., Taiwan, Japan and South Korea have reported one case each. Thailand has confirmed four cases.
Health officials in the U.S. said Wednesday they are actively monitoring 16 people who came into close contact with the traveler to China who became the first U.S. resident with a new and potentially deadly virus.
The man, identified as a Snohomish County, Washington, resident is in his 30s, was in good condition and wasn’t considered a threat to the public.
The hospitalized man had no symptoms when he arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma airport last week, but he started feeling ill. He had traveled to China in November, flying home to Washington state Jan. 15 before the start of U.S. airport screening.
The illness comes from a new coronavirus that experts say may be spread through the respiratory tract and may be mutating. The first cases were linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, suggesting animal-to-human transmission, but the illness is now thought to also be spread between humans.
Many places overseas and in the U.S. have adopted screening measures out of concern about a global outbreak similar to SARS, another coronavirus that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003.
Nearly two decades after the disastrously handled SARS epidemic, China’s more open response to the new virus signals its growing confidence and greater awareness of the pitfalls of censorship, even though the government remains as authoritarian as ever.
As the viral outbreak spread from Wuhan this week, a more assertive China now appears determined not to repeat its past mistakes.
News that the new coronavirus can spread between humans has rattled financial markets and raised concern it might wallop the economy just as it appears to be regaining momentum.
Health authorities across Asia are stepping up surveillance and other precautions to prevent a repeat of the disruptions and deaths during the 2003 SARS crisis. Such outbreaks can cause tens of billions of dollars of losses from reduced travel and spending.