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AFP
January 24, 2020

Virus fears: Beijing cancels Lunar New Year events

World

AFP
January 24, 2020

BEIJING: Large-scale Lunar New Year events in Beijing have been cancelled as part of national efforts to control the spread of a new SARS-like virus, city authorities announced on Thursday.

Chinese authorities have been telling people to avoid crowded places over the busy Spring Festival holiday to try and halt the spread of a new coronavirus which has infected over 570 people.

The city government said it would call off events including temple fairs – which have attracted massive crowds of tourists in past years – urging citizens “to strengthen prevention and support”.

In a post on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo, city authorities added that the move was to help epidemic prevention and control.

Beijing’s city government said they would provide more information “as the epidemic situation evolves.”

The central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged, was put on lockdown Thursday, with outbound trains and planes indefinitely suspended. Tollways on roads out of the city were closed as well.

Neighbouring Huanggang announced that public transport and rail services would be suspended at midnight, while a train station was to be closed in a third city, Ezhou.

Beijing Tourism Net, which is regulated by the city’s Bureau of Culture and Tourism, added in a separate Weibo post that the Beijing Ditan and Longtan Temple Fairs -- originally scheduled for January 25 to 29 -- would be cancelled.

The fairs, which have been held for roughly three decades according to Chinese news outlet Xinhua, saw 1.4 million Chinese and foreign tourists over five days last year.

Beijing Tourism Net added the Tanzhe Temple Scenic Area, Jietai Temple Scenic Area, and Miaofeng Mountain Scenic Area in Mentougou District would also be closed.

The new strain of coronavirus that emerged in China may have originated in bats or snakes, according to genetic analysis of the virus that has so far killed 17 people.

The theories are based on examination of the genome sequence of the virus released by authorities in the wake of the outbreak, with two studies pointing to the likely role of bats in the outbreak.

One study, published on Tuesday in the journal Science China Life Sciences, which is sponsored by Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Sciences, looked at the relations between the new strain and other viruses.

It found the coronavirus that emerged from China’s Wuhan was closely related to a strain that exists in bats. “Bats being the native host of the Wuhan CoV (coronavirus) would be the logical and convenient reasoning, though it remains likely there was intermediate host(s) in the transmission cascade from bats to humans,” the researchers from several institutions in China wrote in the paper.

That study did not speculate about which animal could have been an “intermediate host,” but a second study published on Wednesday in the Journal of Medical Virology identifies snakes as the possible culprit.

“To search for (a) potential virus reservoir, we have carried out a comprehensive sequence analysis and comparison. Results from our analysis suggest that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir,” the paper says. The researchers caution that their conclusions require “further validation by experimental studies in animal models”.