Amid the continued rapid spread of the new pneumonia virus, which first emerged in Wuhan at the end of December, Chinese authorities are closing off the city of Wuhan, home to over eleven million people.
According to China's state-run CCTV, the decision came as the death toll from the virus almost doubled in a day to 17 as of late Wednesday.
All fatalities so far have been in Hubei, the province around Wuhan.
All planes and trains leaving the city will be cancelled beginning Thursday, while public transportation within the city, including buses, subways and ferries, will also be suspended.
Authorities are especially on alert as Lunar New Year, which involves the country's largest annual migration of people, is just around the corner.
"Because the Spring Festival is coming, and there is a floating population of more than five million in Wuhan going out of the city. And many people outside the city also want to come back to Wuhan for family reunion, which is a big flow. What's more, there will be mass return trips after the Spring Festival. If not well controlled, there will be a peak outbreak."
The World Health Organization said after an emergency meeting on Wednesday that it has postponed a decision on whether the current outbreak constitutes a state of international health emergency.
It explained that it will convene another emergency meeting on Thursday to fully review the status quo.
However, Chinese authorities admit the country is now at the "most critical stage" of prevention and control, as the virus has been identified in 20 regions, including Beijing, Shanghai and the southern province of Guangdong.
Kim Hyo-sun, Arirang News.