To contain deadly virus, China locks down cities with 18 million people
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To contain deadly virus, China locks down cities with 18 million people

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Developments today:

— Chinese authorities are cutting off two more cities in Hubei province, announcing transportation in and out of Huanggang and Ezhou will be shut down. They cut off Wuhan, the province's capital, earlier.

— From Dubai to Vietnam, airports have stepped up screening of passengers from China to try to identify and isolate any infected people. The Philippines suspended a daily charter flight from Wuhan to a beach resort popular with Chinese tourists.

— The number of confirmed cases in China rose to more than 550.

— The World Health Organization's representative in China said that trying to contain a city of Wuhan's size is unprecedented and that it's too early to say whether it will stem the spread of the virus.


Chinese authorities Thursday moved to lock down three cities with a combined population of more than 18 million in an unprecedented effort to contain the deadly new virus that has sickened hundreds of people and spread to other parts of the world during the busy Lunar New Year travel period.

The open-ended lockdowns are unmatched in size, embracing more people than New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago put together.

The train station and airport in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, were shut down, and ferry, subway and bus service was halted. Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in the city of 11 million were eerily quiet. Police checked all incoming vehicles but did not close off the roads.

Authorities announced similar measures would take effect Friday in the nearby cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. In Huanggang, theaters, internet cafes and other entertainment centers were also ordered closed.

In the capital, Beijing, officials canceled "major events" indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of holiday celebrations, in order to "execute epidemic prevention and control." The Forbidden City, the palace complex in Beijing that is now a museum, announced it will close indefinitely on Saturday.

Seventeen people have died in the outbreak, all of them in and around Wuhan. Close to 600 have been infected, the vast majority of them in Wuhan, and many countries have begun screening travelers from China for symptoms of the virus, which can cause fever, coughing, trouble breathing and pneumonia.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China's communist government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people's liberties. And the effectiveness of such measures is unclear.

"To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science," Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization's representative in China, said in an interview. "It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work."

Coronavirus briefing: Get the rundown on efforts to contain virus spread

For more details on the deadly virus, read these six updates.

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