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Two passengers wearing masks arrive at Beijing International Airport on January 20, 2020, ahead of the Lunar New Year. - China is in the midst of its annual travel rush as millions head to their hometowns to enjoy a week-long holiday to welcome in the Lunar New Year of the Rat. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Travel ban issued for Chinese city at center of virus outbreak

Two passengers wearing masks arrive at Beijing International Airport on January 20, 2020, ahead of the Lunar New Year. - China is in the midst of its annual travel rush as millions head to their hometowns to enjoy a week-long holiday to welcome in the Lunar New Year of the Rat. (Photo: Bloomberg)

The Chinese city at the center of a widening respiratory-virus outbreak suspended outbound flights and rail service, as China ramps up efforts to contain an illness that’s killed at least 17 people and infected hundreds.

The travel halt by the city of Wuhan was reported by state broadcaster CCTV. The city also suspended travel by bus, subway and ferry. Citizens shouldn’t leave the city without special reasons, the report said.

CCTV reported earlier that the death toll has nearly doubled from a previous total of nine. There were two “preliminary positive” reports of the pneumonia-causing virus in Hong Kong, with one diagnosis in the US and patients under examination in Mexico and Russia.

Health officials around the world are racing to control the SARS-like virus that first appeared last month. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization delayed a decision on whether to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, a designation used for complex epidemics that can cross borders. The United Nations agency said it would meet again Thursday to determine a strategy.

After volatility Tuesday, Asian markets calmed Wednesday as China’s National Health Commission detailed actions to contain the disease. The number of cases has climbed to at least 550, according to the People’s Daily.

One 39-year-old Hong Kong patient was found by temperature screening after traveling from Wuhan to Shenzhen, and then to Hong Kong via rail, according to Sophia Chan, Hong Kong’s secretary for food and health.

While final test results are still forthcoming, the man’s case is “highly suspicious,” according to Constance Chan, head of Hong Kong’s Department of Health. Four family members who didn’t have symptoms stayed overnight at a hotel in a popular tourist area and then departed for Manila.

A Chinese woman wears a mask as she stands near the light of a police vehicle on regular duty at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. (Photo: Bloomberg)

In a briefing in Beijing Wednesday, health officials said China has stepped up monitoring of transportation links and ordered a near-complete shutdown of Wuhan, where the virus originated. Officials acknowledged that they’re still grappling to understand the pathogen, which has infected multiple medical workers.

The 17 deaths from the new virus have been in Hubei province, whose capital is Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, CCTV said.

About 4,000 people in Wuhan may be currently infected, based on the number of known cases and the estimated mean time between infection and detection, according to a study by Neil Ferguson, a researcher at Imperial College London.

Two passengers wearing masks arrive at Beijing International Airport on January 20, 2020, ahead of the Lunar New Year. (Photo: bloomberg.com)

While Ferguson’s group released an estimate of 1,700 infections over the weekend, the new total doesn’t mean that the outbreak has doubled in size, according to the study. Factors such as delays in reporting and confirming cases make it difficult to estimate the epidemic’s growth rate, the researchers said.

Fever, Cough

Symptoms include fever, cough or chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. Both the Wuhan virus, known as 2019-nCoV, and SARS belong to the family of coronaviruses, so called because of their crown-like shape. Many such viruses cross the barrier between animals and humans.

Gao said in the Beijing briefing that the source of 2019-nCoV was wild animals sold in so-called wet markets. Some of the first group of patients in Wuhan worked or shopped at a seafood market where live animals and wildlife parts were reportedly sold.

US Patient

The US case is a man in his 30s who was traveling in Wuhan and arrived back in the US on January 15, Washington state health officials said on a call with the CDC Tuesday.

The resident of Snohomish, Washington, said he hadn’t spent any time at the live-animal market where the virus is believed to have originated and didn’t have contact with anyone who was sick.

The man sought care quickly after monitoring news about the virus and is in good condition, though he has been hospitalised out of an abundance of caution, the officials said.

— Bloomberg