Chinese coronavirus: Wuhan on lockdown as public transport is suspended

City's airport and train stations temporarily closed

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The Chinese city of Wuhan, source of an outbreak of a new flu-like virus, is suspending its public transport and advising its citizens not to leave.

At 10am local time on Thursday, Wuhan’s city bus, subway, ferry and long-distance transport operations will be suspended, China’s state news agency CCTV reported.

Its airport and train stations are temporarily closed, state media said.

The government is asking citizens not to leave the city unless there are special circumstances, its virus taskforce told state media. Wuhan has a population of more than 11 million.

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was postponing a decision on whether to declare a global health emergency, used only for the worst outbreaks, saying he needed "more information".

"I have decided to ask the emergency committee to meet again tomorrow to continue their discussion," Mr Ghebreyesus said, referring to a group of international experts who met for several hours at the WHO in Geneva on Wednesday.

Of the transport shutdown, he 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."

The virus, which originated in a seafood market that illegally sold wild animals, has killed 17 people and there are 440 confirmed cases.

It has spread from Wuhan to several Chinese provinces, and Japan, the US, Thailand and South Korea.

Known as 2019-nCoV, the coronavirus is understood to be a new strain.

It has caused alarm because of its connection to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, and experts believe it may be more prevalent than realised. Sars killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the National Health Commission also announced measures to contain the disease, including sterilisation and ventilation at airports, bus stations, and inside planes and trains.

Experts fear that the coronavirus, which is mainly transferred through the respiratory tract, could mutate and further spread disease.

The WHO has confirmed that the virus can be passed between people, at least those in close contact.

Saudi Arabia will start screening passengers arriving from China and take other preventive measures following the outbreak of the new coronavirus in China, the kingdom’s health ministry said on Wednesday.

Saudi’s health ministry is coordinating with the country’s civil aviation regulator to evaluate passengers arriving on direct and indirect flights from China, it said on Twitter.

It also advised individuals travelling to affected cities to avoid markets and dead or live animals.

Bahrain’s health ministry also is coordinating with the country’s main airport to start pre-emptive measures there, state media reported on Wednesday.

Earlier on Wednesday, the British Foreign Office warned against "all but essential" travel to the Chinese city.