The Chinese city of Wuhan is on lockdown as outbound flights and trains were halted to contain a contain a mystery virus that has killed 17 people.
No-one will be allowed to leave the city from 10am local time, and train stations and the airport will shut down, as the coronavirus-hit country stepped up its efforts on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation said it would delay until Thursday a decision on whether or not to declare the outbreak an international emergency. and the UK government announced a series of measures to mitigate exposure to the infection.
All direct flights from Wuhan to Heathrow will be subjected to enhanced monitoring, while the UK Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to the Chinese city.
A spokesman said: “In light of the latest medical information, including reports of some person-to-person transmission, and the Chinese authorities’ own advice, we are now advising against all but essential travel to Wuhan.
“The safety and security of British nationals is always our primary concern, and we advise British nationals travelling to China to remain vigilant and check our travel advice on gov.uk.”
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said precautionary measures are being put in place after cases of the virus spread to other parts of the world.
Deaths from China’s new flu-like virus rose to 17 on Wednesday with more than 540 cases confirmed, increasing fears of contagion from an infection suspected to originate from illegally traded wildlife.
The previously unknown coronavirus strain is believed to have emerged from an animal market in central city of Wuhan, with cases now detected as far away as the United States.
Contrasting with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people, China’s communist government has this time given regular updates to try to avoid panic as millions travel for the Lunar New Year.
“The rise in the mobility of the public has objectively increased the risk of the epidemic spreading,” National Health Commission vice-minister Li Bin said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) was meeting in a high-tech room at its Geneva headquarters to decide whether the outbreak is a global health emergency.
Many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks, avoiding public places such as cinemas and shopping centres, and even turning to an online plague simulation game or watching disaster movie “The Flu” as a way to cope.
“The best way to conquer fear is to confront fear,” said one commentator on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
The virus has spread from Wuhan to population centres including Beijing, Shanghai, Macau and Hong Kong.
With more than 11 million people, Wuhan is central China’s main industrial and commercial centre and a transport hub, home to the country’s largest inland port and gateway to its Three Gorges hydroelectric dam.
The latest death toll in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, rose from nine to 17 by midday on Wednesday, state television quoted the provincial government as saying.
The official China Daily newspaper said 544 cases had now been confirmed in the country. Thailand has confirmed four cases, while the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have each reported one.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.