Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 February 2020

Saudi Arabia begins screening travellers from China for new coronavirus

Checks introduced as China places city of Wuhan, where cases were first detected, under lockdown

Saudi Arabia will begin screening travellers from China after the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus that has killed 17 people and infected nearly 600 since late December.

The kingdom will evaluate passengers arriving on direct and indirect flights from China to ensure their safety, Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

The ministry is co-ordinating with the kingdom’s General Authority of Civil Aviation and advised those travelling to affected cities to avoid markets, dead or live animals and animal-derived products.

The Saudi Health Ministry will also closely monitor how the virus evolves by communicating with the World Health Organisation, it said.

The strain is suspected to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, which has a population of 11 million people.

Wuhan authorities suspended operations of its main railway station and airport, and began setting up road blocks on routes out of the city. Airlines have stared cancelling all flights to Wuhan.

Authorities in the city of Huanggang, 40 kilometres south-east of Wuhan and with 7.5 million inhabitants, have announced the suspension of all public transport into Huanggang from midnight on January 24.

All cinemas, internet cafes and public, cultural, tourist and entertainment venues will be closed.

The lockdown of Wuhan and Huanggang from the rest of China comes at the busiest time for travel as the country celebrates the Lunar New Year.

Chinese authorities have also stopped animals entering Wuhan and urged the city's inhabitants to avoid crowds or gatherings, and asked them not to leave, state media reported.

Travellers arrive at the nearly-deserted Wuhan train station, usually full of passengers ahead of the Lunar New Year, in Wuhan on January 23, 2020. AFP
Travellers arrive at the nearly-deserted Wuhan train station, usually full of passengers ahead of the Lunar New Year, in Wuhan on January 23, 2020. AFP

The WHO director general said on Wednesday that measures being taken in Wuhan to limit spread of the new coronavirus showed commitment to minimising risks locally and abroad.

I shouldn’t joke about this but when I was watching the live broadcast of the Wuhan outbreak, I genuinely felt like it was deja vu from Plague Inc

Weibo user

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index dropped below 3,000 points on Thursday as concerns persisted over the effects the virus would have over the Lunar New Year and businesses.

"We stressed to them that by having a strong action, not only they will control the outbreak in their country but they will also minimise the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally. So they recognise that," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

As China tries to control the spread of the new coronavirus, a 2012 strategy game about eradicating humanity, known as Plague Inc, soared to the top of paid downloads in the country.

The game involves players creating and evolving a pathogen to try to wipe out humanity.

The game was already among the top 25 in Apple apps store charts in China but rose rapidly in recent weeks as the new coronavirus started to spread.

“I shouldn’t joke about this,” a Chinese social media user on Weibo wrote, “but when I was watching the live broadcast of the Wuhan outbreak, I genuinely felt like it was deja vu from Plague Inc.”

One of the game's developers, James Vaughan, had previously been invited to speak at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on the educational merit of the game.

The new virus is suspected of originating from the consumption of illegally traded wildlife.

It has been detected in patients in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and the US, raising concerns about its spread through international air travel.

Airlines and airports in many countries are already taking pre-emptive measures.

Updated: January 24, 2020 04:43 AM

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