China has placed the city of Wuhan, epicentre of the Coronavirus epidemic, under a de facto quarantine from Thursday.
From 10.00 a.m. local time (03.00 a.m. Belgian time), no train or plane may leave the city of 11 million inhabitants, located on the banks of the Yangtse River in Central China.
Wuhan has been at the centre of the outbreak, which has claimed 17 lives, while over 500 persons have been infected, according to the latest count, published on Wednesday evening. All the fatalities have occurred in the city or the surrounding region, but the virus has begun to spread to the rest of the world.
The General Headquarters in charge of fighting the epidemic at the municipal level announced that residents should not leave the city without a specific reason. This decision, it said, has been taken “to effectively curb the progression of the virus” as China prepares to begin, on Friday, its long New Year holiday, which results in hundreds of millions of trips each year.
Since the decision was announced during the night, the residents of Wuhan (pronounced “Woo-ran”) were unable to make any departure plans, although it was still possible to leave the city by car in the early morning, according to a reporter on The Paper Internet news site.
At the city’s highway exits, police were seen stopping some vehicles to take the body temperatures of their occupants, the reporter wrote. There were queues at some gas stations, while many others were short on fuel.
It was still possible to reach the city by train or air on Thursday, although many flights were cancelled. However, within the city, public transport ground to a halt and the New Year festivities have been called off.
The Wuhan Mayor’s Office has also made it compulsory to wear breathing masks, which most city residents had already been doing in any event since the start of the week.