China on Thursday suspended all public transport, including flights and trains in and out of Wuhan, amid an escalating epidemic of coronavirus, reported Xinhua. Wuhan also suspended bus and subway services in the city and closed outbound travel at train stations and airports.

At least 17 people have died in China so far. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed Wuhan coronavirus cases rose to 571. China’s Health Commission said seven new cases of Wuhan Coronavirus had been confirmed in Shanghai.

The coronavirus emerged from Wuhan in Hubei province of China and has led to an outbreak. All those infected were residents of Wuhan or recent visitors to the city. The virus has spread beyond China’s borders, raising concerns of a pandemic. The coronavirus is part of the same family as the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome, and has spread to Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the United States.

Authorities in Wuhan said that all local tourism agencies will suspend business and will not organise tours until February 8. All tours scheduled to start after January 30 stand cancelled. Local authorities will control the number of outbound activities such as conferences, tours and visits. Large gatherings have been banned. Residents have also been asked to wear masks to ensure that the virus is not spread. The central city’s special command centre against the virus said that residents should not leave without a special reason.

“We must be steadfast and strong to keep the outbreak within Wuhan,” said Li Bin, the vice-minister of the National Health Commission. “We’ll urge Hubei province and the city of Wuhan to take the strictest measures for prevention and control.” These measures include more supervision at open-air markets and minimal public activities. The illness is mainly transmitted via the respiratory tract and there “is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease”.

The World Health Organization will continue discussions on ways to deal with the global impact of the virus. It will decide on whether the outbreak in China should be declared a public health emergency like Ebola and Swine flu. After a meeting on Wednesday, WHO said its staff in China were closely monitoring the situation.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised the “very, very strong measures” taken by China. The measures will “minimise the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally,” he told AFP in Geneva.

Several countries have stepped up medical screening of travellers from China, particularly those from Wuhan. The outbreak has cast a shadow over Lunar New Year celebrations. Hundreds of millions of people in China are expected to travel over the course of the new year period, both within the country and overseas.

Passengers from China are facing screening measures at five US airports and a host of transport hubs across Asia. European airports from London to Moscow have also stepped up checks and Nigeria, which has many citizens working in China, said it would start checks at entry points. The Indian Health Ministry on Wednesday said 9,156 passengers were medically screened for the Wuhan coronavirus at seven airports in India. Passengers of 43 flights were screened in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Kochi airports.