Chinese state media has said the city of Wuhan is shutting down outbound flights and trains to contain a new virus that has killed 17 people.
The state-owned People’s Daily newspaper said in a tweet that no one would be allowed to leave the city starting at 10am local time and that train stations and the airport will shut down.
It said that Wuhan authorities would also be shutting down city buses, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses.
Chinese health authorities have urged people in the city to avoid crowds and public gatherings after warning that the coronavirus has infected more than 400 people and could spread further.
The appeal came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) convened a group of independent experts to advise whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.
The number of new cases has risen sharply in China, the centre of the outbreak. Seventeen people have died, all in Hubei province, since the outbreak emerged in its provincial capital of Wuhan late last month. The province has confirmed 444 cases there.
Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, said: “There has already been human-to-human transmission and infection of medical workers.
“Evidence has shown that the disease has been transmitted through the respiratory tract and there is the possibility of viral mutation.”
The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as the Sars outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people.
Some experts have drawn parallels between the new coronavirus and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, another coronavirus that does not spread very easily among humans and is thought to be carried by camels.
But WHO’s Asia office tweeted this week that “there may now be sustained human-to-human transmission,” which raises the possibility that the epidemic is spreading more easily and may no longer require an animal source to spark infections, as officials initially reported.
Authorities in Thailand have confirmed four cases, a Thai national and three Chinese visitors. Japan, South Korea, the United States and Taiwan have all reported one case each. All of the illnesses were of people from Wuhan or who recently travelled there.