All transport leaving Wuhan in China is to be suspended from 10 a.m. local time, on Thursday, Jan. 23, in an effort to control the new SARS-like coronavirus that has broken out there.
At least 540 people have fallen ill with the virus, and 17 have died as a result of the pneumonia-like symptoms that has been linked to the same family as the SARS virus that killed around 800 people worldwide in a 2002-2003 epidemic.
Airports will be closed, trains, buses, ferries for all long-distance travel will be suspended, state media reported.
The provincial government of the central province of Hubei has advised people to restrict any travel. The lunar new year is celebrated on Jan. 25, and around 400 million Chinese will travel across the country to be home with family and friends for the holiday celebrations. It has been described as the world’s largest annual human migration in previous years.
“Spring festival is just around the corner … which objectively increases the risk of the disease spreading and the difficulty of prevention and control. We must not be careless, and we must be highly vigilant,” said Li Bin, deputy director of China’s National Health Commission. “The virus may mutate, and there is a risk of further spread of the virus,” he said.
The World Health Organization is delaying a decision to declare the outbreak a global health emergency and will conduct further discussions on Thursday.
The emergency measures put in place in Wuhan may be enough to stop the virus from becoming a worldwide concern.
“What they are doing is a very, very strong measure and with full commitment,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. “We stressed to them that by having a strong action not only they will control the outbreak in their country but they will also minimize the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally.”