China Further Restricts Travel To Contain Outbreak
China restricted travel from 12 more cities near Wuhan in an attempt to contain the deadly outbreak of coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which has infected 830 and killed 26 people so far.
The lockdown impacts approximately 35 million people and will hinder travel for the Lunar New Year holiday on 25 January.
“The rapidly expanding outbreak has overwhelmed the province’s hospitals and fueled fears of a global pandemic,” The New York Times reported.
Despite growing concerns, the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Committee said the outbreak has not met the criteria to be considered a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).
“Chinese authorities presented new epidemiological information that revealed an increase in the number of cases, suspected cases, of affected provinces, and the proportion of deaths in currently reported cases of 4 percent,” the committee said in a press release. “They explained that strong containment measures (closure of public-transportation systems are in place in Wuhan City, as well as other nearby cities).”
The WHO also added that health officials are still trying to determine the source of the coronavirus and the extent of human-to-human transmission. The committee is prepared to reconvene within 10 days, or sooner, if called by the WHO director-general.
In the meantime, the committee laid out a list of requests for China to complete in mitigating the outbreak. Measures include providing more information on cross-government risk management measures; enhancing rational public health measures for containment; enhancing surveillance and active case finding in China; and continuing to share full data on all cases with the WHO.
The committee also requested that China conduct exit screenings at international airports and ports in affected provinces to increase early detection of the virus, as well as encouraging screening at domestic airports, rail stations, and long-distance bus stations.
In the meantime, the committee said it would support ongoing efforts through an international WHO multidisciplinary mission to review and support efforts to investigate the source of the outbreak, screening efforts in other provinces of China, enhancement of surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections, and reinforcement for containment and mitigation measures.
Chinese officials have remained publicly calm, but citizens have expressed frustration with the government’s response to the outbreak—even managing to evade China’s strong Internet censorship.
“Users have shared experiences of waiting in lines at hospitals for hours, shuttling sick loved ones from hospital to hospital, only to be sent home without being tested for the coronavirus,” according to the Times. “Some videos, like one taken on an unknown date at Wuhan No. 7 Hospital, have made their way from China’s closed-off Internet onto networks like Twitter.”
The virus, which was first reported on 31 December 2019, has spread to at least seven other countries so far—including the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed earlier this week that a man travelling from Wuhan to Washington state tested positive for coronavirus after seeking medical attention for pneumonia-like symptoms.
After China reported the first case of coronavirus, the CDC said it took action to prepare the United States to respond should it spread. These measures included activating the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center to provide ongoing support and implementing public health entry screenings at San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago airports.
Other coronavirus cases outside of China have been confirmed in Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Macau, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam.
“Hong Kong- and London-based researchers who have modeled the outbreak’s potential suggest there are likely many more undetected cases—from 1,300 to more than 4,000,” Vox reported. “That’s in Wuhan alone. And the risk of rapid spread is heightened, as hundreds of millions start to travel this week for China’s Lunar New Year on January 25.”