On January 24, authorities in China announced the closing of various tourist sites, including a high-traffic section of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City in Bejing and Shanghai Disney Resort. The decision is an effort to limit the spread of the so-called Wuhan coronavirus, Channel News Asia reports.
Public transportation has been stopped in 18 cities in Hubei province, and travel has stopped entirely out of Wuhan, the province’s capital and biggest city, per Asia Times. The disease—also called the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)—was first discovered in the city in December and originally linked to a wet market. However, a new study on the first 41 cases of the disease gives evidence that the virus may have jumped to humans days or weeks before the market, reports Jon Cohen at Science magazine.
The virus spreads through airborne droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so large crowds would pose a risk. Crowds are especially common this time of year, when people are travelling to see family and celebrate the Lunar New Year.
The Forbidden City is normally packed with tourists during the Lunar New Year festival, per CNA, and Shanghai Disneyland sold out last year, selling around 100,000 tickets during last year’s festivities, Reuter’s Judy Hua and Cate Cadell report. The Juyongguan section of the Great Wall has been closed, and the wall's temple fair was cancelled. Festivals in Wuhan and Beijing that normally attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually were also cancelled to limit spread of the disease.
But people are still travelling—even to Wuhan—to visit their families. One man who arrived in the outbreak’s epicenter by train told Reuters, “What choice do I have? It’s Chinese New Year. We have to see our family.”
Over 4,400 cases of 2019-nCoV have been identified in China, with more than half of those in Hubei, and 106 deaths have been confirmed, per Time’s Sanya Mansoor. The disease has also been confirmed in more than a dozen countries, with five cases confirmed in the United States.
Other measures taken in China include cancellations of film premieres and the suspension of McDonald’s business in five Hubei cities. China also extended the national New Year holiday to encourage people to stay home. Hong Kong has closed its borders to travel with China, and the World Health Organization is sending a delegation to China to better understand the outbreak. Last week Thursday, the organization said it was “too early” to designate the outbreak an emergency of international concern.
“The mass involuntary quarantine in Wuhan and its neighboring cities is counterproductive,” Georgetown University Law School public health expert Lawrence Gostin tells Reuters. “A lockdown of Wuhan will drive the epidemic underground, provoking fear and panic.”
Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has urged the country to forego New Year gatherings, asking them to instead stay home until all is clear, per Asia Times.
“There’s so much news, so much data, every 10 minutes there’s an update,” Lily Jin, who lives in Wuhan, told Reuters by phone. “It’s frightening, especially for people like us in a severely hit area.”