Officials: No One Allowed to Leave Wuhan, China, in Wake of Coronavirus Outbreak

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Officials in Wuhan, China, are blocking residents from leaving the city, in an attempt to curb the coronavirus outbreak, which has rapidly spread to more than 500 people and killed at least 17, according to news reports.

The lockdown was reported Wednesday afternoon by People’s Daily China, the official newspaper of the Communist Party in China.

Officials had already urged residents not to leave the city unless necessary and to avoid crowded places.

The World Health Organization convened an emergency meeting today in Geneva to decide whether to declare a global health crisis over the outbreak of the mysterious new virus. No decision was made and the group will reconvene for further discussions on Thursday. Similar emergencies have been declared in the past for the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Congo and the Zika virus in 2016.

Health officials on Tuesday confirmed the first U.S. case of coronavirus.

Officials also announced additional measures will be taken to screen for the illness at some U.S. airports.

The first U.S. person infected is a resident of Snohomish County, Washington, officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon.

The man, who is in his 30s, returned last week from a trip to the region around Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. He did not have any symptoms when he arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, officials said.

He arrived home before federal health officials began screening travelers from central China at three U.S. airports. He began feeling sick and contacted a local health care provider on Sunday. His infection with the coronavirus was confirmed on Monday afternoon.

He is in good condition at a hospital in Everett, Washington, outside Seattle.

Health officials said Tuesday that airports in Chicago and Atlanta would also begin screening passengers arriving from central China. Kennedy International in New York, Los Angeles International and San Francisco International were already conducting screens. Any passengers traveling from Wuhan will be funneled to one of these five airports, officials said.

The virus belongs to the same family of coronaviruses that caused the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic. The pneumonia-like virus has been traced to a seafood market in Wuhan in central China.

On Monday, a team of Chinese experts announced it can be passed from person to person, raising fears that the illness could spread more quickly.

Previously, officials said the virus seemed capable of spreading only from animals to humans, according to the New York Times.

On Monday, Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert leading a Chinese government team, said two people in Guangdong province in southern China caught the virus from family members who had recently returned from Wuhan, China Daily reported.

“It was confirmed that two cases in Guangdong province arose from human-to-human transmission,” Zhong said during a news conference.

Fifteen medical workers have also tested positive for the virus, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said.

With many people traveling this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, officials worry the virus could be spread to far more people in a much wider area.

The first signs of the virus were seen in Wuhan late last month, the AP reported. The total number of cases there has now reached at least 258.

The virus is also turning up in other Chinese cities. More than 20 cases have been diagnosed in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong province in the south and Zhejiang in the east, the AP reported.

Cases have also been found in South Korea, Thailand, Japan and Taiwan. So far, they have all been among people who had been in Wuhan.

CDC officials said screeners at the five U.S. airports will take temperatures and ask about symptoms of passengers who traveled from Wuhan.

Dr. Martin Cetron, a leader in global health at the CDC, said the risk to the American public is deemed to be low.

“The earlier we detect a case, the better we can protect the public, and the more we can understand about this virus and its risk for spread,” he said Friday in a call with reporters.

The World Health Organization said the virus is a coronavirus, the same family of viruses that cause the common cold and much more serious illnesses, like SARS.

Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

There is no vaccine, and antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses. The WHO recommends basic hand and respiratory hygiene and avoiding contact with people who show symptoms of the illnesses.

SARS emerged as a new coronavirus in 2002, spreading from southern China to more than two dozen countries. More than 700 people died and over 8,000 were sickened. No new cases have been reported since 2004.

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