China's health commission announced measures to contain the disease, including sterilisation and ventilation at airports. — AFP Photo
BEIJING — China placed the city at the centre of a virus outbreak under effective quarantine on Thursday, suspending outward flights and trains in a drastic step to contain a contagious disease that has killed 17, stricken hundreds and reached other countries.
Authorities in Wuhan, a major transport hub, also suspended public buses and subways, and said residents should not leave the city of 11 million people "without a special reason".
More than 570 people have been infected with the virus across China – with most cases found in Wuhan, where a seafood market that illegally sold wild animals has been identified as the epicentre of the outbreak.
The coronavirus 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.
Like SARS, it can be passed among people through the respiratory tract.
The first case of the new virus was confirmed on December 31, and it has since been detected in Japan, Macau, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.
The World Health Organisation on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to declare a global health emergency – a rare instrument used only for the worst outbreaks.
After a meeting of an emergency committee in Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he needed "more information".
The emergency committee will meet again from 1100 GMT on Thursday, after its chair, Didier Houssin, said the experts were split over declaring a public health emergency.
Though Tedros praised China's "very, very strong measures" to contain the outbreak.
Asked about Wuhan's transport shutdown, Tedros said: "By having a strong action not only will they control the outbreak in their country but they will also minimise the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally". — AFP