China shuts down three cities to contain outbreak

Updated: Jan 24, 2020, 08:52 IST | Agencies | Beijing

Wuhan with a population of 11 million people has been eerily quiet after authorities told residents not to leave town 'without a special reason'.

Travellers arrive at the nearly-deserted Wuhan train station, usually full of passengers on Thursday. Pic/AFP
Travellers arrive at the nearly-deserted Wuhan train station, usually full of passengers on Thursday. Pic/AFP

Beijing: China on Thursday decided to lock down three cities that are home to more than 18 million people in an unprecedented effort to try to contain a deadly new viral illness that has sickened hundreds and spread to other cities and countries in the Lunar New Year travel rush.

Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded Wuhan's train station, where metal barriers blocked the entrances at 10 a.m. sharp (local time). Only travellers holding tickets for the last trains were allowed to enter, with those booked for later trains being turned away.

Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in the city of 11 million people were eerily quiet. In addition to the train station, airport, ferry, subway and bus services were also halted.

Similar measures will take effect from Friday in the nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. In Huanggang, theatres, internet cafes and other entertainment centres were also ordered closed.

In Beijing, authorities cancelled 'major events' indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of holiday celebrations, according to an announcement by the city's bureau of culture and tourism. It said it was needed to 'execute epidemic prevention and control.'

"To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science," Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization's representative in China, told The Associated Press.

"It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work."

The illnesses from a newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month in Wuhan, an industrial and transportation hub in central China's Hubei province. The vast majority of mainland China's 571 cases have been in the city.

Other cases have been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. One case was confirmed on Thursday in Hong Kong after one was earlier confirmed in Macao. Most cases outside China were people from Wuhan or who had recently travelled there.

A total of 17 people have died, all of them in and around Wuhan. Their average age was 73, with the oldest 89 and the youngest 48.

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