China closes off city of Wuhan to stop spread of deadly virus

Pablo Tucker
January 23, 2020

The CDC and Homeland Security began screening people travelling to major airports in California and NY from Wuhan - the province where the virus outbreak is believed to have started. The MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London says it believes there must be more than 4,000 cases within China alone.

All outbound flights from Wuhan have been suspended as of Thursday.

The coronavirus, whose symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath, which can progress to pneumonia, evoked memories of the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China.

Virtually no one would be allowed to leave Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub in central China's Hubei province. Another important thing to keep in mind is that novel coronavirus in many ways resembles influenza, so people may not realize they have it.

So far, six whole sets of 2019-nCoV genomes have been released.

The order to shutdown Wuhan came the day before Chinese New Year.

Most cases are in China, where the infection has spread faster in recent days.

There are also now 393 suspected infections in China - 257 of them registered on Wednesday alone - with 5,897 additional cases of "close contact", the NHC said.

It's hard to imagine a bigger challenge for public health workers in China and, as cases spread, around the world. Health officials confirmed she was infected with the new strain of coronavirus.

It means that it would be hard to track travellers who have been to the city, as they would have to take a connecting flight at a larger, global airport - usually via Beijing.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to travel from major cities to family homesteads for the Lunar New Year celebration.

At a late evening press conference in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chair of the committee, and other WHO officials explained that half the committee decided there were still too many unknowns to a declare Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), a designation that can affect travel and the movement of goods.

Infections have so far been confirmed in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand, along with the US and China.

The WHO has only used the rare label a handful of times, including during the H1N1 - or swine flu - pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.

The Chinese government announced Tuesday it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as SARS, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel. That would have significantly increased the risk of spreading the disease from the Wuhan hotspot to the whole country and overseas.

"They'll happen because people travel". Health officials from all of the affected countries have leapt into action, screening for signs of the illness at airports and border crossings, while researchers worldwide study the new pathogen in search of a vaccine. Still unsure after a day of deliberation, however, World Health Organization will meet again Thursday, with Tedros saying he took the decision "extremely seriously".

In Thailand, officials have introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving at airports in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi from high-risk areas in China.

The United States had also ordered the screening of passengers arriving on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, including at airports in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Those matches had been due to go ahead in Wuhan.

Other reports by iNewsToday