The Chinese city at the centre of a SARS-like virus outbreak has urged people to stay away, cancelling a major Lunar New Year event, as it strives to contain a disease that has spread across the country.
The death toll from the virus, which first emerged in the central city of Wuhan, has reached nine while more than 400 people have now been infected in 13 provinces and municipalities.
The disease is spreading just as hundreds of millions of people are travelling in packed trains, planes and buses across China to gather with friends and family for the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts on Friday.
Wuhan’s mayor Zhou Xianwang urged residents to not leave the city and visitors to avoid it so that the possibility of transmission can be reduced.
“If it’s not necessary we suggest that people don’t come to Wuhan,” Zhou told state broadcaster CCTV.
Fever scanners have been set up at the city’s train station and airport and officials check the temperatures of drivers at highway checkpoints, while outbound tour groups have been banned from leaving the city of 11 million people.
The National Health Commission announced measures on Wednesday to curb the spread, including disinfection and ventilation at airports and bus stations as well as inside planes and trains.
The vast majority of cases have been found in Wuhan, where a seafood market that illegally sold wild animals is the primary suspect for the outbreak.
The virus, which can be transmitted between humans and could mutate, has also infected people in other countries including the US, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
The Wuhan government said in a notice Tuesday that it will cancel activities during China’s Lunar New Year holiday, the most important event in the Chinese calendar.
Wuhan has cancelled the annual prayer-giving at the city’s Guiyuan Temple and has closed the temple — which attracted 700,000 tourists during last year’s holiday.
This year, city authorities said 30,000 tourists had already booked tickets to new year celebrations and 200,000 free event coupons had been distributed.
The Wuhan New Coronavirus Infected Pneumonia Prevention and Control Headquarters said it would cancel public events that were not “necessary.”
All local artistic and theatre performances have been cancelled, it said, and the museum is closed. It has also pulled plans to send opera troupes around rural areas during the holiday.
Tour groups leaving the city have also been cancelled.
Police are conducting spot checks for live poultry or wild animals in vehicles exiting and entering the city.
“We already know that the disease originated from a market which conducted illegal transaction of wild animals,” Gao Fu, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“This might be the cause, so the disease could be on an animal, and then passed on from this animal to a human.”