In an unprecedented move, China has extended a lockdown to more cities beyond Wuhan, effectively cutting off 50 million residents from public transport and public entertainment. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has announced that travel between the mainland and the city is being suspended.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said personal travel permits for mainland residents to Hong Kong will be suspended and urged all Hong Kong residents in mainland China to return immediately and self-isolate at home for 14 days. The high-speed rail service between Hong Kong and the mainland will stop running from Thursday and the number of flights to the mainland will be halved.
The new coronavirus strain, which has so far killed 132 people with almost 6,000 cases confirmed in mainland China as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout Asia and the rest of the world – having now reached at least 15 countries – first originated in Wuhan just before the Lunar New Year. All flights, subway, bus and train services have been suspended in Wuhan and similar measures are now being enforced in the cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. All three cities are located in Hubei province.
Entertainment centres and theatres have also been ordered to close for the foreseeable future. In addition, all Wuhan residents must wear face masks in public. Travel in and out by private car is still permitted.
“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organisation’s representative in China, told The Associated Press. “It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”
In Beijing, all ‘major events’ are suspended indefinitely, which includes those for the Chinese New Year holidays, and The Forbidden City closed on Saturday.
The Department of Foreign Affairs advises: “While the risk of contracting the disease for travellers and foreign residents in China remains low, there is a strong likelihood that travel could be disrupted by increased containment measures employed by the Chinese government. In Hubei in particular, while the situation is still developing, increasingly strong measures are coming online and travel within the province has become tightly controlled and all tourist facilities have been closed. In the circumstances travellers are advised against visiting the province of Hubei, if possible. Travel, within China, may be disrupted by increased containment measures employed by the Chinese government.
“Travellers and residents should be aware of potential delays and checks when entering or leaving China or large cities within China, and potential delays and disruption when travelling from China to other countries, particularly at airports. The risk of delay and travel disruption is particularly heightened if the person travelling exhibits symptoms of fever, respiratory illness, and coughing, and the Embassy would advise against travel to or within China in this instance at this time. The Embassy of Ireland will continue to monitor the situation and is continuously updating this travel advice.
“Travellers and residents should take particular care to observe food safety and travel precautions and the wearing of single use masks and regular washing of hands with an alcohol-based soap are strongly recommended by the World Health Organisation.”