Desperate efforts to curb the spread of an illness that has infected more than 1,200 and killed 41 people so far reached new heights in the locked-down Chinese city of Wuhan, where authorities on Saturday banned nearly all vehicle travel downtown while Hong Kong officials announced schools would be closed for another two weeks.
Authorities believe the outbreak began at a large seafood and animal market last month in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in China’s Hubei province. The majority of cases and fatalities have primarily occurred in mainland China, but the outbreak has since spread overseas.
Australia and Malaysia confirmed their first cases Saturday while Japan confirmed a third.
On Friday, France identified three cases — the first evidence of the virus in Europe — and the United States identified a second patient, a Chicago woman in her 60s, who recently traveled to Wuhan.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it expects more Americans to be diagnosed with the virus.
The medical journal, The Lancet, in a study published this week suggested that people infected with the Coronavirus might still be able to spread the illness before they exhibit its flu-like symptoms.
The new virus is part of a larger family of what are known as coronaviruses, some of which can be as mild as the common cold. Symptoms include cough, fever and shortness of breath.
In some cases it can worsen into pneumonia, which can prove fatal.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced her government would raise its response level to emergency — the highest level — and that primary and secondary schools would be closed until Feb. 17. Direct flights and trains into the city of Wuhan were blocked Wednesday in addition to public transportation within the city in a bid to prevent further outbreak.
Officials in Wuhan on Saturday also announced the use of private cars would be barred in downtown areas starting after midnight.
As of Saturday, most of China’s provinces have also activated a Level 1 public health alert, the highest in a four-tier system, including the cities of Yichang, Suizhou and Jingzhou, local outlets reported.
The outbreak has also prompted the cancellation of several events, including a marathon expected to draw close to 70,000 as well as Lunar New Year Celebrations for the year of the rat, which were slated to begin on Saturday.