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China Seals Off, Locks Down City of 11M

Unprecedented measures taken to fight spread of new virus
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 23, 2020 4:30 AM CST
Updated Jan 23, 2020 7:03 AM CST
China Seals Off City at Center of Outbreak
Workers use infrared thermometers to check the temperature of passengers arriving from Wuhan at a train station in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang Province, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020.   (Chinatopix via AP)

(Newser) – In a step apparently unprecedented in the history of disease control, China has sealed off and locked down a city bigger than New York or London. Authorities announced Wednesday that public transportation was being shut down in Wuhan, the city of 11 million people at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, and residents would not be allowed to leave by air or train, the BBC reports. Residents tell Reuters that roads have also been blocked off and guards are patrolling highways. Authorities have also announced plans to seal off Huanggang, city of 7 million people east of Wuhan, and restrict travel out of nearby Ezhou, a city of 1 million. The outbreak has killed 17 people, all of them in or near Wuhan, and there have been more than 500 cases reported, including one in the US. More:

  • Desperate attempts to leave. The South China Morning Post reports after the Wuhan announcement was made, crowds of people trying to get out of the city before the 10am deadline rushed to the city's airport and main train station, which were already packed with people leaving for the Lunar New Year holiday. Police and paramilitary troops guarded the train station and people with tickets for trains leaving after 10am were turned away.

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  • An "unbelievable undertaking." The city is a major transport hub, and putting it under effective quarantine is "an unbelievable undertaking," Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, tells the New York Times. "People are going to get out," he says. "It's going to be leaky."
  • Fear and anger. Worried Wuhan residents say hospitals are overcrowded, there is a shortage of the surgical masks they have been ordered to wear when going outside, and food price are already beginning to rise, RTHK reports. Residents have expressed anger at the restrictions online.
  • "New to science." To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science," Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization's representative in China, tells the AP." It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work."
  • Snakes may have been the source. Researchers suspect that the coronavirus may have gone from bats to humans via snakes, CNN reports. Most of the early cases were workers or customers from a seafood market that also sold wild animals, including snakes, as food.
  • No decision yet from WHO. The World Health Organization, which met Wednesday to discuss declaring the outbreak a global public health emergency, said more information is needed before a decision can be made and the emergency committee will meet again on Thursday, reports NBC.
(There are fears the number of cases has been severely underreported.)

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