Thursday, 23 January 2020

China extends travel restrictions in effort to contain coronavirus Hospitals in Wuhan overwhelmed by country’s worst viral outbreak since Sars

 A China has expanded travel restrictions from Wuhan to two nearby cities, as authorities battle to contain a viral outbreak that has overwhelmed hospitals and sparked global alarm. In Wuhan, a city of more than 10m people, all public transport in and out of the city was closed at 10am local time ahead of the new year holiday, when hundreds of millions typically travel across the country. The authorities later extended similar restrictions to Huanggang city, south-east of Wuhan, where residents were told not to leave without a special reason, according to an announcement on a city government website. In the nearby city of Ezhou, trains were stopped from leaving or entering the city.  The lockdown in Wuhan to curb the outbreak — China’s worst since the Sars epidemic 17 years ago — coincided with an announcement that Beijing was cancelling large public events, including fairs for China’s lunar new year, because of the coronavirus. Beijing’s Forbidden City, one of the country’s top tourists attractions, also said it would close until further notice. The new virus has killed 17 people and infected more than 600 in China. Chinese state television on Thursday afternoon reported three new confirmed cases in the northwestern province of Shaanxi. Beijing’s culture and tourism bureau said public events including temple fairs were being cancelled in China’s capital to “strengthen control” of the situation. Cases have also been confirmed in the US, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Residents of Hong Kong, which was hard hit during the Sars outbreak, rushed to buy face masks as news broke of the first confirmed case in the city on Wednesday. One pharmacy on Hong Kong island said it had sold out of its latest order of 200 boxes of masks within half an hour. Authorities in the city confirmed a second case in the city on Thursday. Taiwan stepped up its border control measures. Chinese citizens who were Wuhan residents would be blocked from entering Taiwan with immediate effect, said Chen Shih-chung, health minister. In addition, daily monitoring of people with respiratory symptoms is being broadened from recent arrivals from Wuhan to travellers from anywhere in China, including Hong Kong and Macau. The government also said it was probing the distribution of false reports about new infections via a messaging app. Passengers from a train from Wuhan have their body temperatures checked as they arrive in the city of Hangzhou © AFP via Getty Images Singapore’s health ministry confirmed the city-state’s first coronavirus case, a 66-year-old Wuhan man who travelled there from China this week. Two other suspected cases, both from Wuhan, had been identified. Preventive measures at land and sea checkpoints had been stepped up, the ministry added. China’s benchmark CSI 300 index closed 3.1 per cent lower, marking its worst one-day performance since May in the final session before the week-long lunar new year holiday. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 1.9 per cent. Shares in Macau casino operators were among the biggest movers, with SJM Holdings down 4.5 per cent and Galaxy Entertainment dropping 3.5 per cent in Hong Kong. The World Health Organization was set to meet in Geneva on Thursday to decide whether to declare a global emergency over the outbreak. If it goes ahead with the measure, it would be just the sixth such instance in the past decade. During the Sars outbreak in 2003, thousands of people in Beijing were quarantined in their homes, but a city-level travel ban was not imposed.  In Wuhan, some residents said they had attempted to depart before the ban was implemented but were unable to leave. “I heard about the train cancellations in the middle of the night, but came to the station anyway in case I could change my ticket. It looks like that is not possible,” said Li Lei, 24, who planned to travel to Chongqing. Private road transport was still allowed. Recommended AnalysisCoronavirus How China’s slow response aided coronavirus outbreak Another Wuhan resident said her 57-year-old mother had been experiencing symptoms of the virus for a week but was turned away from several hospitals. “When we arrived at the hospital in the morning, staff said the pulmonology department was closed after four doctors had been diagnosed with coronavirus,” said the person, who asked not to be named. Beijing is under mounting pressure to prevent a repeat of the Sars crisis, when nearly 800 people died. The reaction this time has been considered somewhat better than during the Sars outbreak, when the virus was thought to have emerged in late 2002 but was only reported officially in February 2003 — a delay that gave it more time to spread. Chinese internet users took to social media to discuss how authorities in mainland China and Hong Kong were handling the outbreak, commenting on the rapid response from the Hong Kong government and condemning the lack of transparency and openness from mainland authorities. The People’s Daily, the official Chinese Communist party’s mouthpiece, reported the outbreak far down on its homepage on Thursday, below news about President Xi Jinping wishing all Chinese a happy new year. A report on the virus only appeared 34 minutes into Chinese state television’s nightly news programme the previous day.

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