CHINA - Wuhan residents called for help and shared worries of food shortages Thursday, with some on the "verge of tears," after the virus-hit central Chinese city was put on effective lockdown.
Planes and trains out of the city -- the epicenter of a new SARS-like virus -- were cancelled, with public transport suspended and residents ordered not to leave in a bid to control the spread of the disease.
But near-empty trains and planes were still heading into the city of 11 million on Thursday, with hardy passengers donning surgical masks and gloves to brave the journey.
The lockdown comes on the eve of the Lunar New Year holiday, when hundreds of millions of Chinese take to planes, trains and roads to visit relatives in what is the world's biggest annual movement of people.
The search term "Wuhan is sealed off" had been read over a billion times on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform by Thursday afternoon, with some 344,000 discussion posts.
Some residents said they were on the "verge of tears" as they read news of the lockdown.
"We consciously avoid going out, disinfect diligently and wear masks," wrote one user in a social media post.
"But there is a lack of food and disinfectants, and we need more resources. We hope everyone can understand that we are feeling as though it is the end of the world."
The number of confirmed deaths has risen to 17, with more than 570 confirmed infected, officials said.
Few people were seen wandering in the streets, the roads were empty, official events had been canceled and state media said authorities ordered everyone to wear masks in public.
At one hotel, guests were checked for fevers and handed anti-bacterial gel.
The few passengers aboard one train arriving from Shanghai were wearing masks and gloves, but some put on a brave face.
"Some people had their plans affected, but mine were not. I wanted to go home," said a 28-year-old man surnamed Fang who works in the property industry.
"My family and I are not scared at all," said a Wuhan resident surnamed Zhou boarding a nearly-empty flight back to the city from Beijing with her 8-year-old child.
In the city though, residents were more fearful.
"I have not gone out of the house for around 2 days," a 26-year-old surnamed Mao told AFP.
He said last time he went out, surgical masks were selling for a higher-than-normal price of 50 RMB ($7). After he bought some, the person behind him in the queue bought the remaining stock in the shop.
Some residents online were calling on the government to provide more resources, saying there were not enough masks and food prices were rising.
Many internet users from outside the city expressed sadness and concern for residents, urging them to stay safe, while others questioned why the city was not sealed off sooner.
Some blamed people in Wuhan for eating wild animals.
It is believed that animals are the primary source of the outbreak, and a now-closed seafood market in Wuhan where wild animals were illegally sold has been identified as ground zero.
"Do people enjoy eating wild animals that much?" one social media user asked. "Hasn't the lesson from SARS been enough?"
A video being shared on social media showed a bride in a nearby city wearing a surgical mask, and saying that all the guests who had visited Wuhan for work had been seated at the same table.
All group tours out of Wuhan have been canceled until Feb. 8, while tourist attractions and star-rated hotels have been told to suspend all large-scale activities until that date.
The annual prayer-giving at the city's Guiyuan Temple, a major Lunar New Year event that attracted 700,000 people last year, was scrapped.