With the high number of travellers expected during the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations this weekend, authorities in China are fighting to contain what is being termed as the Wuhan virus, which is believed to have originated from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, Hubei, China.
Chinese citizens expected to travel to commemorate the Lunar New Year festivities number in the hundreds of millions, using roads, ferries, trains, and planes within China as well as from overseas.
It has been called the “largest annual human migration in the world,” and for this year, the university winter holidays are expected to add even more travellers, hence the heightened concern over the spread of the Wuhan virus.
The death toll from the virus has now reached nine people, with over 440 in China infected in 13 provinces and municipalities, including 15 medical staff. One of the infected medical personnel is critically ill.
The virus is now suspected to be detected in people from various countries such as Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand, as well as in other cities in China such as Beijing and Shenzhen.
The United States confirmed its first case on Wednesday (Jan 22), and authorities say they are getting ready for more cases to arise, although they deem the first patient, a man in his 30s who arrived from Wuhan on Saturday (Jan 18) to be “low risk” to the general public. Officials, however, are staying on high alert.
The virus, which is a coronavirus similar to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), is raising alarms worldwide. SARS was responsible for killing almost 650 individuals from 2002 and 2003 in Hong Kong and mainland China.
What is also worrisome is the nature of the virus. China’s National Health Commission Vice Minister Li Bin said at a news conference in Beijing that there “is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that it will be discussing in an emergency meeting whether or not the outbreak should be deemed a global public health emergency, in the wake of three additional fatalities in Wuhan reported on January 21 linked to the mysterious virus.
“We will step up research efforts to identify the source and transmission of the disease,” the Vice Minister added.
In the run-up to travel season during the Lunar New Year festivities, it was announced that greater efforts at containment would be carried out in airports, train stations and shopping centers.
The Health Commission said in a statement, “When needed, temperature checks will also be implemented in key areas at crowded places.”
Wuhan has also issued a travel advisory against visitors at this time, and authorities have told the 11 million residents of the city to stay home for the holidays. Wuhan’s local government also cancelled its Chinese New Year public events. In last year’s festivities, 700,000 tourists went to the annual prayer-giving at the city’s Guiyan Temple. Tour groups originating from Wuhan have been cancelled as well.
Reuters reports that China’s president, Xi Jinping, issued a statement saying “People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed.” -/TISG