Following the panic triggered by the outbreak of a new coronavirus, China has locked down two of its cities including Wuhan which has a population of around 11 million people.

Wuhan and Huanggang are at the epicentre of a new coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 17 people and infected nearly 600.

Reports have stated that the government has shut down the city’s airport, railway stations, short distance ferries and long-distance coaches in Central China’s Wuhan city, following 18 deaths due to the 2019-nCoV, a new strain of coronavirus, previously not identified in humans.

Authorities in Wuhan, a major transport hub, also suspended public buses and subways, and said residents should not leave “without a special reason”.

Majority of the cases has been reported from Wuhan, where a seafood market that illegally sold wild animals has been identified as the epicentre of the outbreak.

The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Like SARS, it can be passed among people through the respiratory tract.

The symptoms of infection include fever, cough and breathing problems.

Fearing that the epidemic may spread further, Chinese authorities in a late night notification, have asked residents not to leave the city unless necessary.

Normal life in Wuhan has come to a standstill and the lockdown has caused panic among people.

Wuhan residents shared their anguish on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, with one describing being on the “verge of tears” when the de facto quarantine was announced.

“We are feeling as though it is the end of the world,” said another on Weibo, voicing concerns about shortages of food and disinfectant.

“We really need everyone’s help.”

Some regions are facing a shortage of drugs and sterilization equipment due to the epidemic in Wuhan.

Over 500 Indian students study in Wuhan city’s medical colleges in universities. However, Indian officials said most of them had left for home for the Chinese New Year holidays.

After a case of one Indian teacher infected by the virus in China was reported, India issued an advisory last week against travel to Wuhan.

Advisory has been issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and the Indian consulates in China. People coming from China are taken through a specialised thermal screening process at airports. So far, 12,828 passengers from 60 flights have been screened.

Meanwhile, the Union Health Ministry has informed that no case of novel coronavirus has been detected in the country.

The first case of the new virus was confirmed on December 31 in China, and it has since been detected in Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to declare a global health emergency — a rare instrument used only for the worst outbreaks.

(With agency reports)