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20 Million on Lockdown As China Halts Travel From Three Cities Over Deadly Virus

A staff member checks the body temperature of a child after a train from Wuhan arrived at Hangzhou Railway Station in Hangzhou, China.
A staff member checks the body temperature of a child after a train from Wuhan arrived at Hangzhou Railway Station in Hangzhou, China.
Photo: Getty Images

Two more cities in China are being placed on lockdown in an attempt by Chinese authorities to control the spread of a deadly new virus called 2019-nCoV and avoid a global epidemic. The SARS-like virus has killed at least 17 people and sickened more than 570, spreading to at least four countries outside China so far.

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Huanggang, a city of 7.5 million people in central China, will suspend public transportation and close all cafes and movie theaters as of midnight tonight, local time (11:00 am ET), according to the BBC. Ezhou, a nearby city of 1 million, is also shutting down train travel, based on a new report from the New York Times.

Wuhan, the suspected source of the virus and a city of 11 million people, was the first city to be placed on lockdown at 10:00 am local time earlier today after a surprise announcement at 2:00 am that allowed some people to get out by plane. Reuters reports that a handful of airlines were operating past the 10:00 am deadline.

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Travel by train and air from Wuhan are now banned, though it’s still unclear exactly how many people are being allowed to enter and leave the city by car. Videos appeared online overnight showing police stopping highway travel leaving Wuhan, and there are multiple reports that car travel is being tightly controlled.

The lockdown of three cities with millions of people is “unprecedented in public health history,” a spokesperson at the World Health Organization (WHO) told Reuters and was not made at the direction of the agency.

The Chinese cities of Beijing, Wuhan, Zhejiang, and Macau have all canceled their Lunar New Year celebrations this weekend, the largest holiday in China. Millions are expected to travel for the start of New Year festivities, racking up an estimated 3 billion trips, in what is often called the largest human migration in the world.

Experts note that any lockdown similar to what we’re seeing in China would likely be unconstitutional in the United States. President Donald Trump told a TV news crew in Davos, Switzerland yesterday that everything was “totally under control,” when it came to U.S. preparations for a possible pandemic. Just one person has tested positive for the virus in the U.S. so far, though there are conflicting reports about whether the man, currently in Seattle, is in good condition.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is helping five U.S. cities conduct health screenings for passengers traveling from China: Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Shoppers in Wuhan, China load up on food at a local supermarket on January 23, 2020.
Shoppers in Wuhan, China load up on food at a local supermarket on January 23, 2020.
Photo: Getty Images
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China’s National Health Commission reported on Thursday that they’re starting to see cases of people infected with the virus who have never traveled to Wuhan, according to Chinese state media outlet CGTN, further confirming the theory that this virus is able to be transmitted from person-to-person. Health authorities believe that the virus was first contracted through an animal—perhaps a snake, according to researchers.

The reports from people inside cities like Wuhan grow more nerve-wracking by the day. There are videos popping up on social media that show scuffles at supermarkets where people are trying to stockpile food and supplies.

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Health care professionals in the region are also concerned, especially since at least 14 health workers have already gotten sick. Symptoms of the virus include a fever and cough, not unlike other illnesses that affect the respiratory system.

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“The virus is now spreading at an alarming rate. The hospitals have been flooding with thousands of patients, who wait hours to see a doctor - you can imagine their panic,” one anonymous doctor from Wuhan told the BBC today.

“Normally Wuhan is a great place to live and we are proud of our work—specialists here have developed a guide for coronavirus diagnosis and treatment. But I am scared because this is a new virus and the figures are worrying.”

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A special panel of experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) convened an emergency meeting yesterday to determine whether the outbreak should be considered a “public health emergency of international concern,” abbreviated as PHEIC. The panel did not come to a determination and explained that it would convene again on Thursday to make a determination.

“The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern on new #coronavirus is one I take extremely seriously,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, tweeted on Wednesday. “And one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence.”

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

Considering China often goes into PR denial mode when an outbreak happens, it must be extremely bad if they actually lock down cities and let’s everyone know about it.