Manchester's civic leaders have sent a message of support to sister city Wuhan after it was put on lockdown in the fight to stop the spread of a deadly new virus.

Transportation has been shut down in Wuhan, the Chinese city of 11 million at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

At least 12 other cities in central China's Hubei province, encompassing a population bigger than that of New York, London, Paris and Moscow combined, have also been put on lockdown as officials battle to stop the virus spreading further.

So far more than 850 cases have been confirmed around the world with at least 25 deaths, all of them in China.

In a letter to Wuhan's mayor Zhou Ji, Manchester city council leader Sir Richard Leese wrote: "I am writing to express our support to our esteemed sister city of Wuhan during this difficult time due to the emerging public health issues presented by the outbreak of Coronavirus.

"Our thoughts are with the families and relatives of all of those affected by the virus in the city of Wuhan and beyond.

"We understand that this already difficult situation will have been amplified by the preparations already underway to celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Rat."

An electrician sets up wiring while workers drive excavators at the construction site of a field hospital in Wuhan

Wuhan has been Manchester's 'sister city' since October 1986.

In the same year a Chinese consulate was also opened in Rusholme.

The cities forged the partnership in a bid to encourage greater trade and investment

In February 2018, China Daily reported the two cities had vowed to 'deepen co-operation' at a summit held in Wuhan.

Sir Richard Leese

Speaking during the summit Sir Richard said: "Both city regions share common challenges.

"This is a chance to identify our shared ambitions, our natural strengths and the opportunities we have to trade and do business together."

Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province in Central China and has a population of over 10 million people including 1.2m students, making it the world’s largest student city.

Manchester has seen a vast amount of Chinese investment in recent years.

This week Rhys Whalley, executive director of Manchester China Forum, said Chinese investors were 'involved in over £6bn worth of development across the city region'.

Following the outbreak hospitals in Wuhan have been grappling with a flood of patients and a lack of supplies.

Videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for examinations, and some complained that family members had been turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.

Authorities in Wuhan and elsewhere put out calls for medicine, disinfection equipment, masks, goggles, gowns and other protective gear.

Wuhan authorities said they are rapidly constructing a new 1,000-bed hospital to deal with the crisis, to be completed on February 3.

It will be modelled on a Sars hospital that was built in Beijing in just six days during the Sars outbreak.

It is not clear just how lethal the virus is, or even whether it is as dangerous as ordinary flu, which kills tens of thousands of people every year in the US alone.

Scientists say it is also not clear if it spreads as easily as Sars, its genetic cousin, which also originated in China and killed about 800 people in 2002-03.

The rapid increase in reported deaths and illnesses does not necessarily mean the crisis is getting worse.

It could instead reflect better monitoring and reporting of the newly discovered virus, whose symptoms can initially resemble those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.

"It's still too early to draw conclusions about how severe the virus is because at the beginning of any outbreak you would focus more on the severe cases," said Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the World Health Organisation in Geneva.

"And then maybe we are missing some mild cases because people will just be a little bit sick and will not have it tested. And they will recover."

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