In an attempt to stem the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, China has locked down the central city of Wuhan, which is at the core of the outbreak. It has announced the shutdown of its public transport system and closure of railway stations and airport from Thursday morning.

As on Thursday, the coronavirus had killed 17 people – all in the central Chinese province of Hubei of which Wuhan is the capital – and infected nearly 600.

Official news agency, Xinhua reported that Wuhan “…battling with a pneumonia outbreak has announced to suspend public transportation, and close the airport and railway stations to outgoing passengers, while asking citizens not to leave the city without specific reasons.”

The city has a population of around 11 million and is home to thousands of foreigners including Indian students.

“City buses, subways, ferries and long-distance coaches, as well as flights and trains for outgoing passengers will be suspended starting from 10 am Thursday until further notice,” read a statement issued by Wuhan’s headquarters in view of prevent and treating pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus.

According to the notice, the measures are being taken in a bid to “effectively cut off the virus spread, resolutely curb the outbreak and guarantee the people’s health and safety.”

The city had already taken measures to tighten the control and monitoring of outbound travellers in an effort to curb the spread of new coronavirus-related pneumonia.Outbound tour groups had been banned earlier this week, and local police were deployed to conduct spot checks on inbound and outbound private passenger vehicles for live poultry or wild animals, according to the municipal health commission.

“Thirty-five stationary infrared thermometers and over 300 hand-held ones have been used to screen passengers with fevers at various transport terminals in Wuhan, including the airport, railway stations, bus stations and passenger piers,” Xinhua reported.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday night extended its emergency talks on whether the novel coronavirus outbreak in China constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) to January 23 .

The organisation’s emergency committee met Wednesday evening in Geneva, but decided that more information was needed to declare the status of the outbreak and make recommendations regarding it. It is expected to take up the matter again on Thursday.

“There was an excellent discussion during the committee today, but it was also clear that to proceed, we need more information, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

“The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence. Our team in China is working with local experts and officials to investigate the outbreak,” he said.

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