The Chinese authorities have locked down a third city in order to contain the spread of the potentially deadly coronavirus. After Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, neighbouring Huanggang, a city of some 6 million people, now Ezhou has also been sent into lockdown mode, essentially containing the movement of over 20 million people, according to several reports.
Panic spread in cities as shops were emptied out, face masks sold out and people made attempts to escape.
Local authorities have demanded all residents wear masks in public places and urged government staff to wear them at work and for shopkeepers to post signs for their visitors, Xinhua news agency quoted a government notice as saying.
Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded the Wuhan's train station, where metal barriers blocked the entrances at 10 a.m. sharp. Only travellers holding tickets for the last trains were allowed to enter, with those booked for later trains being turned away. Virtually everyone at the scene was wearing masks, news website The Paper's live broadcast showed.
Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in Wuhan were eerily quiet. Social media users posted that movie theatres were cancelling showings and complained that food vendors were exploiting the situation with huge price increases on fresh produce.
Images of the city posted online following the closure showed long lines and empty shelves at supermarkets as residents stocked up for what could be weeks of relative isolation.
“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, told The Associated Press in an interview at the WHO's Beijing office.
“It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work."
China is now reporting over 600 confirmed cases of the potentially deadly coronavirus across 25 provinces. The Chinese National Health Commission said on Thursday that nearly 6000 people cane in contact with infected persons. Of them 4928 are under observation. 95 cases are being called 'severe'.17 people have died, all in the Hubei province.
Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak is one of China's largest industrial hubs and a major crossroads. Wuhan is a manufacturing centre of 11 million with a long history, formed by the union of three adjacent cities, Hankou, Wuchang and Hanyang, reports AP.
Measures similar to those enacted in Wuhan were being taken at nearby cities in Hubei province, with public transport suspended and theatres, internet cafes and other entertainment centres closed beginning Friday, according to state media reports. That stands to prevent travel by millions more Chinese, potentially increasing the economic costs of the outbreak considerably.
Health authorities were taking extraordinary measures to prevent additional person-to-person transmissions, placing those suspected to be infected in plastic tubes and wheeled boxes where air passed through filters.
(With inputs from AP)
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