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Millions in lockdown in China virus epidemic zones as two cities close

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Millions of people are in lockdown in two Chinese cities at the epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected more than 630.

Millions of people are in lockdown in two Chinese cities at the epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected more than 630.

Singapore has confirmed its first case, a Wuhan man who arrived in the Asian hub on January 20 and is currently in isolation in hospital.

One of his travelling companions has also been hospitalised as a suspect case.

Medical staff transfer patients to Jin Yintan hospital in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Local authorities have confirmed that a third person has died of a pneumonia-like virus since the outbreak started in December.

Vietnam's health ministry said yesterday that two Chinese citizens in the south-east Asian country had tested positive for coronavirus, but were in "good condition".

Health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.

The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China.

Most transport in Wuhan was suspended yesterday and people were told not to leave.

Hours later, neighbouring Huanggang, a city of about seven million people, announced a similar lockdown.

The World Health Organisation's representative in Beijing, Gauden Galea, said the lockdown of 11 million people was unprecedented in public health history.

Other cities were also taking steps to restrict movement and contact.

Nearby Ezhou shut train stations. China's Education Ministry said schools should not hold large events or exams.

The capital cancelled major public events, including two Lunar New Year temple fairs, the state-run Beijing News said.

Airports worldwide were screening passengers arriving from China.

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Hong Kong, which has two confirmed cases, is turning two holiday camps into quarantine stations as a precaution. Taiwan has banned anyone from Wuhan from going to the island.

Symptoms include fever, difficulty in breathing and cough, similar to many other respiratory illnesses.

Preliminary research suggested it was passed on to humans from snakes, but government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.

The WHO will decide whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, which would step up the international response.

If it does so, it will be the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade.

The WHO's Emergency Committee meeting is under way in Geneva and a news conference is expected afterwards.

Some experts, including Australia's chief medical officer, believe the virus is not as dangerous as previous coronaviruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

"The early evidence at this stage would suggest it's not as severe," Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said.

Giving the latest details on infections in China, state television said 634 cases had been confirmed. By the end of Wednesday, China's National Health Commission confirmed 17 dead.

Of the known cases worldwide, Thailand has confirmed four, Vietnam has reported two, while Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States have reported one each.

Beijing scraps Chinese New Year celebrations

Authorities in Beijing have cancelled all large-scale Chinese New Year celebrations in an effort to contain the growing spread of the coronavirus.

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"In order to control the epidemic, protect people's lives and health, reduce the mass gathering and ensure people to have a harmonious and peaceful Spring Festival, it is decided to cancel all the large-scale events, including temple fairs, in Beijing as of today," a statement from the governmental Beijing Culture and Tourism Bureau. said today.

"Citizens shall strengthen the preventative measures and support the decision.

"We will notify the policy changes with the epidemic development... And wish all citizens a happy Spring Festival."

Chinese New Year 2020 runs from Saturday 25 through February 8.

Research teams working on vaccines

Three separate research teams are to start work on developing potential vaccines against the coronavirus epidemic, a global coalition set up to fight diseases says.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which is co-funding the emergency projects, said the plan was to have at least one potential vaccine in clinical trials by June.

The research will be conducted by the drug and vaccine developer Moderna working with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the US firm Inovio Pharma, and a team at the University of Queensland, Australia.

Each of the three projects will test a distinct scientific approach to developing a preventative vaccine against the China virus, known as nCoV-2019.

"Our aspiration with these technologies is to bring a new pathogen from gene sequence to clinical testing in 16 weeks," CEPI's chief executive Richard Hatchett said.

"There are no guarantees of success, but we hope this work could provide a significant and important step forward in developing a vaccine for this disease."</p>

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Source: 9News

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