China closed off entire city of Wuhan and its 11 million residents on Thursday in an unprecedented effort to try to contain the deadly new coronavirus that has spread in the Lunar New Year travel rush.

Outbound flights were cancelled and normally bustling streets, shops, restaurants and other public spaces in the city were eerily empty.

Police, SWAT teams and paramilitary troops guarded the city’s train station, where metal barriers blocked the entrances.

“To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, told the AP. “It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”

Public health emeregency?

The decision comes as the director-general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the emergency committee would meet for a second day to address the “evolving and complex situation”.

It will decide on Thursday whether or not to declare the infection a public health emergency.

Ghebreyesus said that the measure in Wuhan was “strong” but that China would “minimise the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally”.

“We commend their actions,” he added, stating that the WHO will get more information from their team on the ground.

The virus — a new type of coronavirus — that has infected over 400 people and killed 17 over the past three weeks, according to Chinese state media, citing a provincial government press conference.

But the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) said there were at least 295 laboratory-confirmed cases as of January 20 including cases in Thailand, Japan and South Korea as well.

The first case of coronavirus in Macao was confirmed on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV. The infected person, a 52-year-old woman, was a traveller from Wuhan.

Many of those who died were elderly or had other health risks, infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Maria D Van Kerkhove said at a WHO press conference.

“The original source of the outbreak remains unknown and therefore further cases and deaths are expected in Wuhan, and in China. It is possible that further cases will also be detected among travellers from Wuhan to other countries.”

According to the ECDC, China reported a cluster of pneumonia cases linked to a fish and live animal market in the city on December 31, 2019. Ten days later, China confirmed that the coronavirus was the cause.

Three airports in the European Union (EU) have direct flight connections to Wuhan, while there are indirect flight connections to other European hubs.

Chinese New Year celebrations at the end of January will cause an increased travel volume to and from China and within China, the EDC said, increasing the likelihood of arrival in the EU of possible cases.

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