BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s decision to lock down Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, shows how committed the authorities are to contain a viral outbreak that emerged in a seafood market there, a World Health Organization representative in Beijing said on Thursday.
Gauden Galea told Reuters the move, also now replicated in nearby Huanggang, was beyond WHO guidelines.
“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made,” he said, adding authorities had to wait to see how effective it is.
But sealing off Wuhan is “a very important indication of the commitment to contain the epidemic in the place where it is most concentrated”, Galea said.
The WHO has said it will decide on Thursday whether to declare a global emergency over the outbreak, which would step up the international response.
In contrast with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people, China’s communist government has provided regular updates to avoid panic ahead of Lunar New Year holidays.
The previously unknown virus strain, which infected nearly 600 people and killed 17, is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in Wuhan.
Galea said the mortality rate from the disease appeared to be falling, as more milder cases of the disease are found.
But the WHO expects the numbers of cases to “grow much larger” as less easily recognizable, milder cases are found, said Galea.