Coronavirus triggers CDC's highest travel warning for Wuhan

Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in a subway station in Hong Kong Wednesday Jan. 22 2020

Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in a subway station in Hong Kong Wednesday Jan. 22 2020

The respiratory virus has claimed 17 lives since emerging from a seafood and animal market in the central city of Wuhan, infected hundreds of other people and been detected as far away as the United States. Around midnight local time, authorities began cutting off public transportation in the cities of Huanggang and Ezhou, both located around 75 kilometers (45 miles) east of Wuhan in Hubei province.

"We are feeling as though it is the end of the world", said one Wuhan resident on China's Weibo social platform, expressing concerns about possible food shortages.

In Wuhan, all transport networks - including rail, bus, underground, ferries and outgoing flights - have been suspended, and its 11 million residents have been ordered to wear masks in public places and at work. In Huanggang, theaters, internet cafes, and other entertainment centers were also ordered closed. The two cities have a combined population of around two million people.

On Thursday, police, SWAT teams, and paramilitary troops guarded Wuhan's train station, where metal barriers blocked the entrances at 10 a.m.

Globally, there are more than 500 confirmed cases of the virus, which has killed 18 people in China.

The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning Thursday to China because of a severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus first identified in Wuhan.

The first case of the new virus was detected on December 31 previous year, and cases of the virus have since been confirmed in Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the US.

Some experts are claiming the new virus is not as unsafe as other coronaviruses in the same family, including SARS, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has been responsible for the death of more than 700 people since 2012.

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The World Health Organization's (WHO) emergency committee is meeting on Thursday in Geneva to decide whether or not to declare a "global emergency".

China has also closed several tourism attractions and cultural sites including Beijing's Forbidden City, which saw 19 million visitors a year ago.

While departures were banned, trains and planes were still allowed into the city. Especially as there will be panic within the city with many wishing to leave.

Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in Britain, said the unprecedented lockdowns appear to be justified scientifically.

Media reports suggest that about 50 wild animals, including endangered pangolins, were on sale at the market in Wuhan before it was closed at the end of past year.

Various sources have said the virus could have originated from the snakes or bats sold illegally at the market, though this has yet to be confirmed and differing reports are still being disputed.

The WHO has confirmed that the virus can be passed between people, at least those in close contact. Chinese health officials warned it could mutate and spread further.

Chinese authorities on Thursday reported dozens of new infections, bringing the confirmed total to 571. According to Gulf News approximately 1,400 people are now under medical observation due to symptoms that might mean they are carrying the virus. It is thought that this Wuhan virus is milder than SARS and MERS, with only 15 per cent or so of infected people requiring intensive treatment to date, and a current death rate of 2 per cent.

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