Coronavirus spreading with new cases reported around the world as death toll rises to 25: China has moved to lock down multiple cities with a combined population of more than 25 million people to halt the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.
Health authorities in Hebei, just south of Beijing, said on Thursday an 80-year-old man infected with the coronavirus had died there, marking the first confirmed death outside Hubei. He died on Wednesday but was not confirmed to have been infected with the virus until Thursday. All of the deceased are said to have been elderly and beset with other chronic health issues.
Chinese authorities have locked down eight cities in Hubei province including Wuhan, Huanggang, Ezhou, Chibi, Qianjiang, Zhijiang, Jingmen and Xiantao. However, there are mixed reports on the number of cities with imposed travel bans, as the South China Morning Post reports eight cities are now subject to travel bans.
A total of 10 cities in Hubei suspended some of their public transportation due to the virus, according to local media. The news comes as health authorities in New South Wales investigate four possible cases of the deadly coronavirus, however the hospital locations of patients have not been disclosed for privacy reasons.
Meanwhile, eight other countries have reported patients with the virus — all either residents of Wuhan or recent visitors to the city. Singapore confirmed its first case on Thursday — a Chinese resident of Wuhan.
Vietnam said two Chinese citizens had tested positive. An Indian nurse working in Saudi Arabia has also been infected, Indian authorities said, although Saudi health authorities said there had been no cases in the country so far. Thailand has confirmed four cases, Japan and South Korea have confirmed two cases each while the United States and Taiwan have reported one each.
Authorities say they have also confirmed 2,197 cases where people have had close contact with patients. Airports worldwide are screening passengers arriving from China with the US warning travellers to exercise increased caution in China. Hong Kong, which has two confirmed cases, is turning two holiday camps into quarantine stations as a precaution. Taiwan has banned anyone from Wuhan from going to the island.
The open-ended lockdowns in China are unmatched in size, embracing more people than the populations of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago put together. The train station and airport in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, were shut down yesterday, and ferry, subway and bus services were halted.
Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in the city of 11 million were eerily quiet. Police checked all incoming vehicles but did not close off the roads. Authorities announced similar measures would take effect on Friday in the nearby cities of Huanggang, a city of about 7 million people, and Ezhou. In Huanggang, theatres, internet cafes and other entertainment centres were also ordered closed.
In the capital, Beijing, officials cancelled "major events" indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of holiday celebrations, in order to "execute epidemic prevention and control". The Forbidden City, the palace complex in Beijing that is now a museum, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday.
|Locked-down Wuhan is now a ghost town as the residents are staying inside.|
One of China's top health experts warns potential "super-spreaders" could worsen the impact of the new coronavirus strain, which can now be passed between humans. China's Finance Ministry said on Thursday it was allocating 1 billion yuan ($211 million) in funding to the Hubei provincial government to help with efforts to contain the outbreak.
Hubei has been the hardest hit region by the outbreak, which began in the province's capital Wuhan. "The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history," said Gauden Galea, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) representative in Beijing.
Meanwhile, authorities in Wuhan will build a dedicated hospital to treat patients, which it aims to complete in six days, state media outlet Beijing News reported, citing an unnamed source at the construction company that will build it.
Health authorities in New South Wales are investigating four possible cases of the deadly coronavirus. NSW Health says it will not be disclosing the hospital locations of patients under investigation for privacy reasons.
It has not been revealed if the patients were on a flight which arrived in Sydney yesterday from the Chinese city of Wuhan. "We will update the public immediately of any confirmed cases and need to disclose a person's movements," a statement read.
The death toll in China has risen to 25 and nearly 850 cases of patients infected with the virus are globally confirmed. The virus originated in Wuhan, which has since been placed in lockdown. The virus has already spread to other Chinese cities, while abroad, Thailand has confirmed four cases, South Korea and Japan have two cases each while the United States, Singapore and Taiwan have each reported one.
Should Australians be worried?
Australian authorities took no chances when China Eastern flight 749 from Wuhan touched down, stationing biosecurity officers and border security staff at the terminal to interview passengers. Sydney is the only Australian city with direct flights to Wuhan. The services, which were launched in 2017, run three times a week.
The University of Queensland (UQ) is confident it can develop a vaccine for the potentially deadly coronavirus in as few as 16 weeks as four people in NSW and two people in Brisbane are monitored for the virus. Researchers from the university have been funded by an international organisation to use new rapid medical development technology to help create a vaccine for the new virus strain.