WUHAN: In a recent press conference, Top China Officials announced to expand drastic travel restrictions to contain an epidemic that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000.
Meanwhile the US, France and Japan has prepared to evacuate their citizens from a quarantined city at the outbreak’s epicentre. China has locked down the hard-hit province of Hubei in the country’s centre in an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people in a bid to slow the spread of the respiratory virus, as per reports.
Its ability to spread appears to be “getting stronger” though it is “not as powerful as SARS”, top Chinese health officials said.
The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Outside the epicentre, Shandong province and four cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an and Tianjin announced bans on long-distance buses entering or leaving, a move that will affect millions of people travelling over the Lunar New Year holiday.
The populous southern province of Guangdong, Jiangxi in the centre, and three cities made it mandatory for residents to wear face masks in public.
Originating in Hubei’s capital of Wuhan, the virus has spread throughout China and across the world, with cases confirmed in around a dozen countries including as far away as the United States.
Earlier, The US State Department said it was arranging a flight from Wuhan to San Francisco for consulate staff and other Americans in the city.
France’s government and the French carmaker PSA (formerly called PSA Peugeot Citroën) also said they planned to evacuate staff and families, who will be quarantined in a city in a neighbouring province.
Similarly, Japan is coordinating with Beijing to swiftly evacuate its citizens, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
South Korea’s consulate in Wuhan said it was conducting an online poll of its citizens there to gauge demand for a chartered flight out.
The health emergency has overwhelmed Wuhan’s hospitals with patients, prompting authorities to send hundreds of medical reinforcements, including military doctors, and start construction on two field hospitals.
The number of confirmed cases in the city could rise by 1,000, Wuhan’s mayor Zhou Xianwang predicted Sunday, based on the number currently undergoing observation in hospital. He also said around five million people had left the city during the new-year travel rush.
With non-essential vehicles banned from the road, volunteers stepped up to drive sick fellow citizens to hospitals.