BEIJING: Chinese authorities rapidly expanded a mammoth quarantine effort aimed at containing a deadly contagion on Friday (Jan 24) to 13 cities and a staggering 41 million people, as nervous residents were checked for fevers and the death toll climbed to 26.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) held off on declaring a global emergency despite confirmed cases in half a dozen other countries, China expanded its lockdown to cover an area with a total population greater than Canada's.
A range of Lunar New Year festivities have been cancelled, while temporary closures of Beijing's Forbidden City, Shanghai's Disneyland and a section of the Great Wall were announced to prevent the disease from spreading further.
Authorities said the measures were to prevent and control the spread of the new coronavirus, which has since infected more than 800 people and killed 25.
The virus, which started in Wuhan city, has since spread to other major cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Cases have been confirmed in Singapore, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and the United States.
It has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Trains and planes were halted from leaving Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on Thursday as the city was placed under effective lockdown. Passenger boats and buses were also forbidden from entering the city
"This year we have a very scary Chinese New Year. People are not going outside because of the virus," a taxi driver in the city, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
But he was not concerned about potential food shortages in a prolonged shutdown.
"No, because it's Chinese New Year and people have already bought a lot of things to cook at home for several days."
In Zhijiang city, all public venues have been shut down except hospitals, supermarkets, farmers' market, gas stations and drug stores.
Huanggang city, a city of 7.5 million people, has also been locked down and citizens told to not leave the city while Ezhou city has shut its train stations.
Other cities with travel restrictions include Xiantao, a city of 1.5 million, and Chibi, which has about 500,000 people, which will close toll station entrances and halt transport routes.
Indoor entertainment venues in Enshi city have also been shut down, it said.
Buses in cities of Xianning have suspended services.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday called the outbreak "an emergency in China" but stopped short of declaring the epidemic of international concern.
Hubei province authorities said they were calling off cultural performances and public cultural venues.
Travel agencies in the province have suspended business activities, and are no longer organising tour groups, authorities said in an announcement on Friday.
From 12 noon local time, the province will also stop operating online taxis and impose passenger restrictions on taxis on the roads.
To discourage nationwide holiday travel, the government said beginning Friday anyone who bought a ticket for rail, air, long-distance coach, or water transport could receive a refund upon cancellation.
Beijing has also cancelled massive gatherings that usually attract throngs at temples during the New Year holiday, while the historic Forbidden City will close from Saturday.
There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission. Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing.
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