KEY POINTS

WHO was first advised of the outbreak Dec. 31

At least 17 people have died and 470 been infected in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand Taiwan, South Korea and the U.S.

Chinese officials are imposing travel restrictions ahead of the Lunar New Year celebration

Update: 2:55 p.m. EST

China on on Wednesday shut down travel from Wuhan, the epicenter of an outbreak of a pneumonialike coronovirus.

Service was suspended on all buses, subways and ferries, and all trains and flights were canceled to reduce the risk of spreading the virus,  China Daily reported.

Original story

China on Wednesday imposed travel restrictions as it raised the death toll from a new pneumonialike coronavirus to at least 17 and the World Health Organization considered whether to call an international health emergency.

At least 470 other people have been infected by the virus, including two cases in Hong Kong and a man in Washington state, as well as reported infections in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea. A search was underway for the family of a Hong Kong patient who traveled on to Manila, the South China Morning Post reported.

The outbreak has evoked memories of the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, which killed 774 people after infecting nearly 8,100. As in the earlier epidemic, government officials at the epicenter delayed reporting the initial cases. WHO was first informed of the outbreak Dec. 31.

The epidemic started in Wuhan in central China, which has a population of 11 million and is a major transportation hub, as well as a popular tourist spot.

“We recommend that people not come to Wuhan if it isn’t necessary,” Zhou Xianwang, the mayor of Wuhan, said in an interview Tuesday with state broadcaster CCTV.

President Xi Jinping ordered health officials to set up prevention control procedures as they prepare for massive travel ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, a weeklong celebration and one of the biggest travel holidays of the year. The festival begins Friday.

The economy is expected to take a hit amid travel cancellations. The Chinese spent more than $200 billion last year on travel, shopping and food during the festival.

The China National Health Commission confirmed representatives would be at Wednesday’s WHO meeting to assess the outbreak. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China would cooperate with the international community to contain the epidemic.

Li Bin, a deputy head of the health commission, warned the virus could mutate and spread more easily.

He said strict measures have been imposed on markets in Wuhan and steps have been taken to rein in the live animal trade. Quarantines also have been imposed on exit ports, with thermal detectors set up at bus and train stations, as well as docks, to measure body temperature. Public gatherings also are to be restricted.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said tour groups operating between Wuhan and Taiwan would be suspended.

The U.S. has begun screening incoming passengers at three airports for signs of the disease. Flight attendants at Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s leading airline, have expressed nervousness and received permission to wear face masks to mitigate the chance of infection.

 “Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death,” WHO said.