KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 — China has placed Wuhan under quarantine after a new respiratory virus originating from the central Chinese city of 11 million killed almost 20 people and infected over 500 people worldwide, international reports said today.
The Wall Street Journal said outbound flights and trains in Wuhan, a central Chinese province 1,000km from Beijing, will be halted, while its public transportation system will be shut down as well, as authorities try to contain the pneumonia outbreak.
The US daily quoted Wuhan health authorities as saying that the lockdown began at 10am local time today, and will continue for an indefinite period. Subways, city buses, long-distance coaches and ferries will also be suspended.
At least 17 people have been killed by the virus, which has links to the deadly SARS virus, according to state television. Officials had earlier put the toll at nine dead, all in Wuhan, and more than 470 confirmed cases in China.
However, now 547 confirmed cases have been reported in mainland China, according to the state broadcaster China Central Television and local Chinese authorities, reported Channel News Asia.
China’s National Health Commission vice-minister Li Bin said the virus, which can cause pneumonia, was being spread via breathing. Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. There are no vaccines for the virus.
Cases have been reported in Thailand, Japan, and South Korea, as well as Chinese cities Shanghai and Beijing. As of today, new cases were reported in Macau and Hong Kong, with potential cases being investigated in Mexico, the Philippines, and Australia. Malaysia has not reported any cases as of press time.
While no cases have been reported in neighbouring Singapore, the island republic has set up a multi-ministerial task force to deal with the “eventuality” of the Wuhan virus on Singapore’s shores, as it is “inevitable” that it will see an imported case sooner or later.
A similar view was echoed by Malaysia’s Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye today. He told theSun that any suggestion that Malaysia should not be concerned about the virus making its way to the country was “erroneous”.
“We receive close to 30 million international travellers every year, with about three million of them coming from China; so the risk is real. It’s wrong to think that we have nothing to worry about. We will be on high alert,” he reportedly said.
Tourists are screened with thermal scanners at all international entry points to detect cases of fever. Those arriving at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) with fever would be placed at the KLIA Health Quarantine Centre before being taken to Sungai Buloh Hospital for further action. Similar efforts are in place in government hospitals and clinics.
Meanwhile, AFP reports that the food market where the coronavirus, now known as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), first surfaced was a smorgasbord of exotic wildlife ranging from wolf pups to species linked to previous pandemics, such as civets.
It quoted Chinese officials as saying that the virus may have originated in a wild animal sold at the food emporium, which has since been closed. Some international cases, as well as early sufferers of the virus, were reported to have frequented the Huanan Seafood Market.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Wuhan coronavirus could be caused by a newly emerging member of the family of viruses that caused the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak that infected over 8,000 people and killed almost 800 in 2003 worldwide. Bats and civets are thought to have spawned SARS.
Meanwhile, the WHO’s Emergency Committee is meeting once more today to decide whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern over the Wuhan outbreak. It met earlier yesterday to discuss the matter.