China has effectively quarantined Wuhan — the city of 11 million people at the center of a new coronavirus outbreak that has rapidly infected hundreds — by canceling planes and trains out of the city.
The citywide lockdown comes during the Lunar New Year, a weeklong holiday when hundreds of millions of people travel domestically and internationally from China. The World Health Organization met Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak currently amounts to an international health emergency, and will issue a decision Thursday.
Chinese state media put out the shocking quarantine announcement Wednesday afternoon, New York time, right before the World Health Organization was originally expected to issue its health declaration. Busses and ferries moving around Wuhan will also be temporarily suspended.
So far, 440 people — the bulk of them in and around Wuhan — have been sickened by a strain of coronavirus not previously seen in humans, and 17 have died, according to the BBC. And officials also discovered this week that in at least two instances the virus had spread from human-to-human contact, making it more likely the illness would spiral and mutate if not properly contained.
Already, cases of coronavirus have been reported in travelers coming to Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and the United States from Wuhan. Central U.S. airports in Los Angeles and New York accordingly announced they’d heighten health screenings in response. Hospitals are also being asked to quarantine any people suspected of having the new coronavirus, even if against their will.
It’s believed that the virus originated in a local seafood market that sold wild animals illegally, according to the New York Times. The illnesses have elicited massive domestic response and international anxiety because of their association with the SARS virus, a type of coronavirus that killed nearly 800 people and infected thousands more in the early 2000s.
Cover: Health officials in hazmat suits check body temperatures of passengers arriving from the city of Wuhan Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, at the airport in Beijing, China. (AP Photo Emily Wang)