China cuts off city in bid to limit virus spread

January 23, 2020
Particles of the MERS coronavirus that affected the MIddle East. Photo: NIAD

The Chinese city of Wuhan is shutting off public transport, including the airport, as authorities attempt to contain a new virus in a strategy that mirrors a Hollywood script.

The airport and train stations, as well as bus, subway and ferry networks, will be closed Thursday in amove the World Health Organization has said will not control the coronavirus outbreak and minimize its spread internationally.

The WHO’s emergency committee will meet again Thursday to discuss whether to declare a global emergency over the virus.

Inbound screening of flights from affected areas has now been introduced at airports in countries such as the US, the UK and Australia as well as airports across Asia.

READ: US expands Wuhan virus screening to Atlanta and Chicago.

Officials had been warning people in Wuhan not to travel but the decision, on the eve of the busy Chinese New Year travel period, shuts down all but private travel.

The Chinese national health commission has banned the sale of poultry in Wuhan, banned poultry and wild animals from entering the city and canceled public activities during the New Year holiday.

Figures are changing constantly but the latest reports say the death toll has climbed to 17 and there are now 500 confirmed cases of the disease.

The virus has already been detected in other parts of China, the US, Thailand, Japan and South Korea. However, a suspected Australian case tested negative.

The 2019-nCoV virus is believed to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that sold animals illegally.

There are fears the virus is mutating and that it could spread more easily than first thought.

China’s Centre for Disease Control said Wednesday the virus was spread mainly through the respiratory tract and that there was “a possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease”.

But it does not seem as deadly as the SARS virus that killed hundreds of people in the early 2000s.

Opportunities for the disease to spread beyond China are now much greater as Chinese airlines have aggressively expanded international operations since the 2003 SARS outbreak and outbound tourism has grown substantially.

Fears about the spread of SARS had a big impact on airlines in 2002-03 as skittish travelers, particularly in Asia, canceled their travel plans.

Those worries are again surfacing and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is allowing flight attendants to wear surgical masks on all routes after workers accused the airline of violating their rights by limiting the masks to routes to China.

However, the International Air Transport Association said it was too soon to gauge the impact of the outbreak.

IATA said it was closely monitoring developments and was actively enagaged with the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control.

It noted that the WHO was advising against any travel restrictions on China “based on the information currently available on this event”.

“In case of symptoms suggestive to respiratory illness before, during or after travel, travelers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share travel history with their health care providerr,” it said.

According to the US CDC, Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that generally circulate among animals such as camels, cats and bats.

In rare circumstances, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people, such as was the case SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).