Hong Kong has announced plans to slash cross-border travel between the city and mainland China as the new coronavirus continues to spread.
More than 100 people have now died in China, with confirmed infections surging to more than 4,500.
High-speed trains and ferries that cross the border will be suspended from Thursday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced. She wore a face mask.
The virus has spread across China and to at least 16 countries globally.
Several foreign governments with large numbers of citizens in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, are considering evacuations. Japan is sending a plane later on Tuesday.
Wuhan, as well as the wider Hubei province, are already effectively in a lockdown with strict transport restrictions in and out of the area. Wearing masks in public is now mandatory in some Chinese cities.
On Monday, authorities in Beijing confirmed that a 50-year-old man had died – the first fatality in the Chinese capital from the virus.
Hours later, Ms Lam announced Hong Kong’s new strategy to tackle the virus. In addition to suspending train and ferry services, flights to mainland China will be halved. People will also no longer be able to receive permits to visit Hong Kong from the mainland.
The city of seven million – a major financial centre – is part of China but retains significant autonomy.
Tens of millions of people visit from mainland China every year but numbers were down in 2019 because of the pro-democracy protests that rocked the city.
“The flow of people between the two places needs to be drastically reduced” amid the outbreak, Ms Lam was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post newspaper.
What’s the latest in China?
The number of total cases confirmed by China rose to 4,515 as of 27 January, up from 2,835 a day earlier.
The virus causes severe acute respiratory infection and there is no specific cure or vaccine.
Most of the deaths have been in Hubei province. The initial victims were mostly elderly people or those with pre-existing respiratory problems, but few details have been released about the dozens of deaths confirmed in recent days.
A total of 60 people had been discharged from hospital after recovery, according to Chinese state media.
Efforts to stem the spread of the new coronavirus have coincided with the Lunar New Year celebration, which usually sees millions travel across the country to visit relatives and friends.
Many festivities have been suspended and the holiday period has been extended by three days to Sunday.
Chinese authorities have also imposed several other measures in recent days:
- Beijing and Shanghai introduced a 14-day observation period for people arriving from Hubei
- Authorities postponed the new semester for schools and universities nationwide, without giving a resumption date
- China Railway Group suspended hundreds of train lines throughout the country
- The immigration administration encouraged citizens to reconsider the timing of overseas travel
In Wuhan, travel from the city of 11 million has been severely restricted and non-essential vehicles have been banned from the roads.
The city’s mayor though said about five million people had already left the city ahead of the holidays and before the lockdown.
How is the virus spreading?
The new coronavirus is thought to have emerged from illegally traded wildlife at a seafood market in Wuhan and can now spread between people.
Chinese authorities over the weekend said the virus was – like a normal flu – able to spread during its incubation period and before any symptoms appeared.
This would set it apart from cases like Sars and Ebola and make it much harder to contain.
The incubation period can range from two to 10 days, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
However unlike China, it says it remains unclear whether the virus is contagious before symptoms appear.
What is the situation internationally?
According to the WHO and national authorities, there have been at least more than 50 confirmed cases outside China.
The latest case to be confirmed is in the German state of Bavaria, only the fourth so far in Europe.
- Eight cases: Thailand
- Five: USA, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan
- Four: Malaysia, South Korea, Japan
- Three: France
- Two: Vietnam
- One: Nepal, Canada, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Germany
So far, there have been no deaths outside China.
Like many countries, the United States has urged its nationals to “reconsider travel” to China and is advising against visiting Hubei. The country plans to fly consular staff and US citizens out of Wuhan in the coming days.
Japan is expecting to evacuate about 200 nationals on a chartered plane on Wednesday morning, with health workers on board to monitor passengers. The evacuees will be asked to look out for any symptoms of coronavirus for two weeks after their return.
France, India and South Korea have also said they plans to airlift citizens out of Wuhan.
The UK is yet to make a similar decision but has urged Britons to leave the area if they can – however this has upset some living in Hubei who complain they are trapped.
What is the new coronavirus?
The virus causes severe acute respiratory infection and symptoms seem to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough. After a week, some people can experience shortness of breath and need hospital treatment.
The virus itself is a new, or “novel” coronavirus – a family that normally affects animals.
The effect of the coronavirus family on humans has long been observed mainly in the form of the common cold. In recent decades though, more serious coronaviruses – like Sars or Mers – have proven potentially deadly to humans.
Yet even in the cases of severe viruses most people infected were likely to fully recover just as they would from a normal flu.
On Tuesday, an expert at China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said one week was sufficient for a recovery from mild coronavirus symptoms.