Public transportation out of the Chinese city of Wuhan is being shut down amid an outbreak of a mysterious new virus strain that has sickened hundreds of people in China and killed at least 17, according to Chinese state media.
No one will be allowed out of the city starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, local time, in an effort to prevent the coronavirus strain from spreading, the state-owned People’s Daily newspaper said on Twitter, citing local authorities.
The affected means of transportation reportedly includes trains, buses, subways, ferries and planes.
The infectious respiratory disease is believed to spread through human-to-human contact, though its source remains under investigation. Environmental samples taken from a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan have tested positive for the strain. Not all confirmed patients reported having visited the market, authorities have said.
In addition to China, cases of the disease have been reported in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. On Tuesday, the U.S. announced its first confirmed case in a Washington state man who recently traveled to Wuhan. He was described as hospitalized in good condition on Tuesday.
The decision to seal off the city came as members of the World Health Organization on Wednesday said they were unable to agree on whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency. The WHO’s Emergency Committee said it will reconvene on Thursday to continue discussions.
Such declarations are made when there is “an extraordinary event” that creates a public health risk that could “potentially require a coordinated international response,” according to the WHO’s website.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that he agreed with the Chinese authorities’ decision to halt public travel, so long as it was with the goal of protecting public health.
“What they are doing is a very, very strong measure and with full commitment,” he said at a press conference when asked about the decision in Wuhan. “We stress to them that by having a strong action, not only will they control the outbreak in their country but they will minimize the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally. So they recognize that and they’re doing both.”