Chinese city stops outbound flights, trains to fight virus

  • Workers spray disinfectant at a train station in Wuhan in southern China's Hubei province, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Chinese health authorities urged people in the city of Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings, after warning on Wednesday that a new viral illness that has infected hundreds and caused at least nine deaths could spread further. (Chinatopix via AP)

  • Staff move bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The number of cases of a new coronavirus from Wuhan has risen over 400 in China Chinese health authorities said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Dake Kang) Dake Kang

  • Travelers wear face masks as they line up at turnstiles at a train station in Nantong, eastern China's Jiangsu province, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The number of cases of a new virus has risen to over 400 in China and the death toll to 9, Chinese health authorities said Wednesday. (Chinatopix via AP)

  • A health official scans the body temperature of a passenger as she arrives at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Indonesia is screening travelers from overseas for a new type of coronavirus as fears spread about a mysterious infectious disease after its first death reported in China. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana) Tatan Syuflana

  • Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in the high speed train station, in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The first case of coronavirus in Macao was confirmed on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV. The infected person, a 52-year-old woman, was a traveller from Wuhan. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) Kin Cheung

  • Hospital staff stand outside the emergency entrance of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The number of cases of a new coronavirus from Wuhan has risen to over 400 in China health authorities said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Dake Kang) Dake Kang

  • Staff sell masks at a Yifeng Pharmacy in Wuhan, Chin, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Pharmacies in Wuhan are restricting customers to buying one mask at a time amid high demand and worries over an outbreak of a new coronavirus. The number of cases of the new virus has risen over 400 in China and the death toll to 9, Chinese health authorities said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Dake Kang) Dake Kang

  • A box of masks imported from Japan sits inside a Yifeng Pharmacy in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Pharmacies in Wuhan are restricting customers to buying one mask at a time amid high demand and worries over an outbreak of a new coronavirus. The number of cases of the new virus has risen to over 400 in China and the death toll to 9, Chinese health authorities said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Dake Kang) Dake Kang

  • Health officials in hazmat suits check body temperatures of passengers arriving from the city of Wuhan, Wednesday, at the airport in Beijing. AP PHOTO

  • From left, Maria van Kerkhove, Head of Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Unit, Director General of the World Health Organization, WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and Professor Didier Houssin, the Chair of the Emergency Committee hold a press conference after an Emergency Committee meeting on what scientists have identified as a new coronavirus, at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Health authorities are closely watching an... Salvatore Di Nolfi

  • From background, centre left, Maria van Kerkhove, Head of Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Unit, Director General of the World Health Organization, WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,Professor Didier Houssin, the Chair of the Emergency Committee and Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO's Health Emergencies programme, hold a press conference after an Emergency Committee meeting on what scientists have identified as a new coronavirus, at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in... Salvatore Di Nolfi

  • A hospital staff member looks out a window of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The number of cases of a new coronavirus from Wuhan has risen to over 400 in China health authorities said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Dake Kang) Dake Kang

  • Hospital staff wash the emergency entrance of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The number of cases of a new coronavirus from Wuhan has risen to over 400 in China health authorities said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Dake Kang) Dake Kang

  • Health Officials in hazmat suits wait at the gate to check body temperatures of passengers arriving from the city of Wuhan Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, at the airport in Beijing, China. Nearly two decades after the disastrously-handled SARS epidemic, China’s more-open response to a new virus signals its growing confidence and a greater awareness of the pitfalls of censorship, even while the government is as authoritarian as ever. (AP Photo Emily Wang) Emily Wang

  • A passenger wears mask at the high speed train station, in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Hong Kong's Department of Health on Wednesday confirmed its first case of the new strain of coronavirus, which has been spreading in China. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) Kin Cheung

Associated Press
Published: 1/23/2020 12:13:36 AM

BEIJING — A Chinese city of more than 11 million people planned to shut down outbound flights and trains Thursday as the world’s most populous country battled the spread of a new virus that has sickened hundreds of people and killed 17, state media reported.

Everyone in the city of Wuhan was to be restricted to some degree. The state-owned People’s Daily newspaper said no one would be allowed to leave. The official Xinhua News Agency said no one would be permitted to leave without a specific reason.

Train stations and the airport were to shut down at 10 a.m. Buses, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses would also be temporarily closed.

Most of the cases are in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province, but dozens of infections have popped up this week around the country as millions travel for the Lunar New Year, one of the world’s largest annual migrations of people. A handful of infected people who came from Wuhan have also been found overseas.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization put off deciding whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency and asked an expert committee to continue meeting for a second day Thursday.

“We need more information,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

WHO defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

When asked about Wuhan’s public transport shutdown, WHO chief Tedros said authorities were likely acting to prevent transmission and mass gatherings.

“We cannot say they have done something unusual,” he said.

The number of new cases has risen sharply in China, the center of the outbreak. The 17 deaths were all in Hubei province, where the outbreak emerged in the provincial capital of Wuhan late last month. Wuhan authorities said the province has confirmed 444 cases, which would bring the national total to more than 500.

The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people. Some experts have drawn parallels between the new coronavirus and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, another coronavirus that does not spread easily among humans and is thought to be carried by camels.

“There has already been human-to-human transmission and infection of medical workers,” Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, said at a news conference Wednesday. “Evidence has shown that the disease has been transmitted through the respiratory tract, and there is the possibility of viral mutation.”

A tweet from WHO’s Asia office this week raised the possibility that the epidemic is spreading more easily and may no longer require an animal source to spark infections, as officials initially reported.

Authorities in Thailand on Wednesday confirmed four cases — a Thai national and three Chinese visitors. Japan, South Korea, the United States, Taiwan and Macao, a former Portuguese colony that is a semi-autonomous Chinese city, have all reported one case each. All of the illnesses were of people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

“The situation is under control here,” Thai Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters, saying there are no reports of the infection spreading to others. “We checked all of them: taxi drivers, people who wheeled the wheelchairs for the patients, doctors and nurses who worked around them.”

Dr. Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University, said there were three criteria for the outbreak to be declared an international emergency: The outbreak must be an extraordinary event. There must be a risk of international spread, and a globally coordinated response is required.

“In my opinion, those three criteria have been met,” he said.

In response to the U.S. case, President Donald Trump said: “We do have a plan, and we think it’s going to be handled very well.” He said the U.S. and China were both “in very good shape.”

The patient, a man in his 30s who traveled to China in November, was doing well in an isolation unit in a hospital north of Seattle. He returned to Washington state Jan. 15, before the start of U.S. airport screening, health officials said.

In Wuhan, pharmacies limited sales of face masks to one package per customer as people lined up to buy them. Residents said they were not overly concerned as long as they took preventive measures.

“As an adult, I am not too worried about the disease,” Yang Bin, the father of a 7-year-old, said after buying a mask. “I think we are more worried about our kids.”

Medical workers in protective suits could be seen carrying supplies and stretchers into Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some of the patients are being treated.

Some countries have stepped up screening measures for travelers from China, especially those arriving from Wuhan. Travel agencies that organize trips to North Korea said the country banned foreign tourists because of the outbreak. Most tourists to North Korea are either Chinese or travel to the country through neighboring China.

Officials said it was too early to compare the new virus with SARS or MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, in terms of how lethal it might be. They attributed the spike in new cases to improvements in detection and monitoring.

“We are still in the process of learning more about this disease,” Gao Fu, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said at the news conference.

Gao said officials are working on the assumption that the outbreak resulted from human exposure to wild animals being sold illegally at a food market in Wuhan and that the virus is mutating. Mutations can make it spread faster or make people sicker.

One veteran of the SARS outbreak said that while there are some similarities in the new virus — namely its origins in China and the link to animals — the current outbreak appears much milder.

Dr. David Heymann, who headed WHO’s global response to SARS in 2003, said the new virus appears dangerous for older people with other health conditions, but doesn’t seem nearly as infectious as SARS.

“It looks like it doesn’t transmit through the air very easily and probably transmits through close contact,” he said. “That was not the case with SARS.”




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