Update: Coronavirus: China expands travel ban to 2 more cities

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BEIJING, Jan 24 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Chinese officials expanded travel restrictions on Thursday to include two more cities, one of which was also ordered to lock down to mitigate the spread of a deadly coronavirus.

China has closed off access to the major port city of Wuhan, where the outbreak originated, but officials added Huanggang and Ezhou to the restricted list. Huanggang, like Wuhan previously, was also placed on lockdown.

Huanggang, 30 miles east of Wuhan, is home to 7 million people and Ezhou 1 million.

Chinese officials also said tighter regulations will be placed on certain vehicles leaving Wuhan, to prevent potentially infected persons from spreading the virus outside the restricted zone. And drivers and conductors should all be monitored and disinfected, a notice said.

Earlier, Chinese scientists said the coronavirus may have originated with a snake. The researchers published the findings in the Journal of Medical Virology, which says the virus most likely transferred to humans from the snake — a many-banded krait or Chinese cobra.

Scientists conducted a sequence analysis of the virus isolated from a patient and compared it to other animals, determining the two snakes — which are common in southeastern China — are most likely the source.

“Our findings suggest that the snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir,” the team wrote.

Researchers called for more investigation to confirm that snakes serve as reservoirs for the virus, but said their findings are “highly significant for effective control of the outbreak.”

Patients first became ill from the mystery virus last month that was later identified as a coronavirus the World Health Organization classifies as 2019-nCoV. The origin was traced to a seafood market in Wuhan, where a variety of live animals are sold, including snakes, chickens and bats.

The virus — which is similar to that which caused a SARS outbreak that killed hundreds in China in the early 2000s — has since jumped borders with cases reported in Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong and the United States. In China, at least 17 people have died and nearly 600 have become ill.

Chinese officials placed Wuhan under partial lockdown ahead of the Lunar New Year weekend, during which millions are expected to travel across the country. The partial lockdown took effect at 10 a.m. Thursday and halted all transportation in and out of the city. Trains, aeroplanes, buses, subways and ferries have been grounded and highways have been closed.

“People who don’t obey the requirements shall be dealt with by authorities in accordance with their respective duties and laws,” the Wuhan government said in a statement. — NNN-AGENCIES