Hong Kong has declared a state of emergency in an effort to stop the spread of the so-called “coronavirus,” which has sickened nearly 2,000 people worldwide and caused at least 56 deaths so far, according to CBS News.
Schools in Hong Kong will be shut down for at least two weeks because of the disease, which originated in Wuhan, China last month, CBS reported. The virus is thought to have jumped from an infected animal in a Wuhan market to humans.
The virus often produces pneumonia-like symptoms such as fever, congestion, and trouble breathing. It can be spread through human-to-human contact, and there is no vaccine for it yet, according to the Washington Examiner.
According to CBS, the same kind of virus produced the SARS ( outbreak in China nearly two decades ago. SARS sickened about 8,000 people and killed 800 in 2002 and 2003.
More than a dozen cities in China are now under quarantine, an effort that is affecting an estimated 50 million people. Even so, coronavirus cases are beginning to crop up in countries outside China because of travel from that country before the lockdowns were implemented.
The timing of the outbreak is not ideal, as the Chinese celebration of the lunar new year was scheduled for this week. Upwards of one million people travel to China for this celebration each year.
Despite this, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam made the decision to shut down the city over the virus outbreak, and she encouraged local universities to extend their existing vacation for at least another week to prevent further transmission. A marathon that was expected to have as many as 70,000 participants was also canceled, according to the South China Morning Post.
Coronavirus spreads to U.S.
The first cases of coronavirus in the U.S. were diagnosed last week in Illinois and Washington state. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that an additional 63 people in 22 states are being monitored after possible exposure to the virus.
Most or all of those who have the virus or are being monitored have traveled to China recently.
The State Department is in the process of arranging charter flights for the 11,000 U.S. citizens that live in Wuhan to leave China if they are willing, the Examiner noted Saturday. It was not clear where in the U.S. the Wuhan residents would go.
The Wuhan market where the virus is thought to have originated was sanitized and disinfected on Jan. 1, but the virus has continued to spread through human contact.
The elderly, children, and those with weakened or compromised immune systems are thought to be at the greatest risk of serious complications and death from the disease.