Millions on virus lockdown in China as WHO weighs response
China put millions of people on lock down on Thursday in two cities at the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected more than 630, as authorities around the world worked to prevent a global pandemic.
Health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.
The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Most transport in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was suspended on Thursday and people were told not to leave. Hours later, neighboring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million people, announced a similar lockdown.
Three Chinese cities on lockdown, travel disrupted amid coronavirus outbreak
Millions of Chinese had to cancel travel plans and hunker down in their homes to avoid exposure to a new, mysterious coronavirus Thursday as three cities in central China went on lockdown to curb the spread of the deadly virus that has already claimed 17 lives.
Health officials said that as of Wednesday more than 570 cases of the coronavirus known as 2019-nCoV have been confirmed across China. New cases have also been popping up outside the country’s borders, including two in neighboring Hong Kong and one in Singapore on Thursday, as well as one in the U.S. earlier this week.
They are warning the virus could spread even further. Officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) are expected to hold a press conference later on Thursday to announce whether it can be classed as a global emergency.
People across China told NBC News the virus has disrupted their travel plans — just as the country is getting ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, later this week, during which millions of people are expected travel both inside and outside China.
Coronavirus: Here’s what airlines and airports are doing to screen, safeguard passengers
World Airports Taking Precautions After China Virus Outbreak
Airports around the world have begun taking precautions to deal with an anticipated influx of Chinese tourists taking Lunar New Year holidays, just as the outbreak of a pneumonia-like virus in China has prompted officials there to take drastic measures to prevent its spread.
Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, announced on Thursday that, following government guidance, all passengers arriving on direct flights from China will receive thermal screening at the gate upon arrival and be provided with informational brochures.
The screening at the airport , home to Emirates airline, will be conducted at secured, closed gates by teams from the Dubai Health Authority and the Airport Medical Center, Dubai Airports said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.
Elsewhere in the Mideast, the Saudi Health Ministry said it would begin screening airline passengers arriving on direct and indirect flights from China to the kingdom.
Meanwhile, the island nation of Bahrain off the coast of Saudi Arabia, home to the long-haul carrier Gulf Air, said it had “taken preemptive measures” at Manama International Airport as well, without elaborating.
British authorities said passengers arriving from China to Heathrow Airport in London, Europe’s busiest, and other airports were not being screened but that they were being given information leaflets on what to do if they fall ill.
Germany’s Fraport, the operator of Frankfurt Airport, said it had not yet received any government guidance advising screening take place so there are currently no travel restrictions.
China shut down train stations, the airport, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses in the Wuhan, and local authorities have demanded all residents wear masks in public places.
At dawn on Thursday, Italian Red Cross officials were on hand at Rome’s Fiumicino airport to meet the last flight from Wuhan before the Chinese city’s airport was shut down.
Passengers evaluated after incidents at three U.S. airports: Airline and airport officials in America aren’t taking any chances, examining passengers arriving on international flights that may be exhibiting certain symptoms.
There have been three high-profile incidents this week, including one on a flight that did not originate in Asia.
On Wednesday night, an American Airlines passenger arriving at Los Angeles International Airport from Mexico City received medical attention upon arrival, American spokesman Curtis Blessing said.
He was transported to a medical center for disease control for precautionary reasons, Blessing added.
LAX spokesman Heath Montgomery said the passenger was taken to the hospital at the direction of the CDC and county health department.