Hong Kong Leader Declares Coronavirus Emergency And Halts Official Trips to China Mainland

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has declared an emergency over the outbreak of coronavirus, a pneumonia-causing virus that has killed over a dozen people in mainland China.

Lam said all official visits to the mainland and official Chinese New Year celebrations would also be halted immediately.

As of Friday, five confirmed cases of the coronavirus infection had been identified in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported.

Lam added she had sought assistance from China's State Council to ensure on-going mask supplies were adequate.

"I hereby urge all citizens stay united to fight against the epidemic to protect all Hong Kong people's health and safety," Lam said.

China is currently marking the Lunar New Year, one of the most important dates in the Chinese calendar. Millions of people have headed home for the holidays amid travel restrictions in 13 cities in China's T province, the center of the outbreak.

Flights and high-speed train connections between Hong Kong and the city of Wuhan in central China, where the virus originated, will be halted.

Chinese children wear protective masks as they wait to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. Kevin Frayer/Getty

The coronavirus outbreak has led to at least 41 deaths and 555 cases of the illness have been confirmed across the world, including in the U.S., France, Japan, South Korea and Thailand, The Guardian reported.

Scientists have been working hard to gain an understanding of its origins and characteristics of the virus, called 2019-nCoV.

The virus was first reported among people who worked at a seafood market in the Hubei Province city, where live animals were sold.

The city—home to around 11 million people—is struggling to cope with the increasing number of patients and is quickly building a new hospital.

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the U.K.'s Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, told Newsweek that it is still not clear what the source of the virus was, and "it may never be definitively proved."

He said: "The virus has already been detected in both bats and snakes prior to this outbreak and the strains in both bats and snakes are similar to each other and the strains from human cases. Human cases are more like the strains in snakes so that is the more likely."

Human coronaviruses can cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. This is more common in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants and older adults.

Two other human coronaviruses, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV have been known to frequently cause severe symptoms.