XIANNING: China stepped up measures to contain a virus that has killed 26 people and infected more than 800, suspending public transport in 10 cities, shutting temples over the Lunar New Year, and rushing to construct a hospital to treat the infected.
The week long holiday to welcome in the Year of the Rat began on Friday, raising fears that the infection rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of people travel to their homes and abroad. The risks persuaded Shanghai Disneyland theme park to close from Saturday until further notice.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the new coronavirus an emergency for China on Thursday, but stopped short of declaring the epidemic of international concern.
While most of the cases and all of the deaths have been in China, the virus has been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States. It was highly likely Britain also had cases, a health official said.
At the railway station in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began last month, the few passengers who took the risk of returning home put on a brave face.
"What choice do I have? It’s Chinese New Year. We have to see our family, ” said one arriving traveller named Hu.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, and neighbouring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million, were in virtual lockdown. Rail stations were largely shut, with few trains stopping, flights suspended and checkpoints on main roads in and out.
The WHO said on Friday it was a "bit too early" to consider the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, a designation requiring countries to step up their response.
"Make no mistake, though, this is an emergency in China," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The previously unknown virus, which has no cure and can spread through respiratory transmission, has created alarm because there are a number of unknowns. It is too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.
Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing. Most of those killed by the virus were elderly, many with pre-existing conditions, the WHO said.
Chinese authorities have advised people to avoid crowds and 10 cities in the central province of Hubei, where Wuhan is located, have suspended some transport, the Hubei Daily reported.
In Zhijiang city, all public venues have been shut except hospitals, some markets, petrol stations and drug stores, the paper reported.
Some famous temples have also closed, including Beijing's Lama Temple, where people make offerings for the new year.
Beijing also cancelled two Lunar New Year temple fairs and closed the Forbidden City, its most famous tourist attraction.
Shanghai Disneyland will close from Saturday. The theme park has a 100,000 daily capacity and sold out during last year's Lunar New Year holiday.
McDonald's also announced on Friday evening that it will suspending its business in five cities across China.
Government officials also said that many sections of the great wall near Beijing will be closed from Saturday, state media reported. - Reuters