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Passengers wear masks in Hong Kong. Kin Cheung/PA Images

Flights and trains from Chinese city of Wuhan suspended to halt virus spread

Residents of Wuhan have been told not to leave the city without a special reason

CHINESE AUTHORITIES WILL suspend flights and trains out of the city of Wuhan as they attempt to halt the spread of a deadly virus. 

The announcement came hours after the number of cases of the SARS-like coronavirus in China surpassed 500, with the majority in Wuhan, which is home to 11 million people.

“Without a special reason, city residents should not leave Wuhan”, while outward flight and trains will be “temporarily” suspended, the central city’s special command centre against the virus said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

The move, effective at 10 am tomorrow (2 am Irish time), is meant to “resolutely contain the momentum of the epidemic spreading” and protect lives, according to the order cited by CCTV.

The move came as the World Health Organization decided to extend by a day emergency talks on a deadly outbreak of a SARS-like virus, postponing its decision on whether to declare a global public health emergency.

“The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of the available evidence,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

The new virus has killed 17 people and spread to five countries, including the United States.

European flights

European airports from London to Moscow had stepped up their checks on flights from Wuhan before the suspension was introduced this evening.

Britain advised against “all but essential travel” to Wuhan — the central China city from where the virus spread — while European health authorities put the threat of the virus spreading to “moderate”.

The coronavirus has sparked alarm because of its similarity to the outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-03.

Compared with SARS, the symptoms appear to be less aggressive, and experts say the death toll is still relatively low. However, the milder nature of the virus can also cause alarm.

The new virus emerged on the eve of the Lunar New Year holiday during which hundreds of million travel across China to meet up with their families.

“The upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations at the end of January will cause an increased travel volume to/from China and within China, hence increasing the likelihood of arrival in the EU of possible cases,” the European Centre for Disease and Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a statement.

“There is considerable uncertainty about the mortality and morbidity of this disease, and more epidemiological data is urgently needed to get a better understanding of this virus.”

Health authorities in the UK had introduced “enhanced monitoring” for the three weekly flights from Wuhan to London’s Heathrow.

Public Health England also raised the risk level of an infection from “very low” to “low” because of the potential for human-to-human transmission.

The United States yesterday confirmed its first case of a person with the new virus. European countries have registered no cases to date.

© – AFP 2020

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