Tourists and residents in the Mongolian city of Ulgii have been stranded for almost a week by a quarantine put in place after two people were believed to have died from the bubonic plague.
How did the plague outbreak appear?
The couple had eaten raw marmot meat and kidney, thought to be a folk remedy for good health, Ariuntuya Ochirpurev of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Ulaanbaatar told the BBC.
Suspicion the two victims had developed the highly contagious pneumonic plague led to the decision to impose the quarantine, Ms Ochirpurev added.
The rodent is a known carrier of the plague bacteria and it is commonly associated with plague cases in the country. Hunting the rodent is illegal.
According to Ms Ochirpurev, 118 people had come into contact with the couple and were isolated and treated with antibiotics for prophylaxis.
Among those were seven foreign tourists from Switzerland, Sweden, Kazakhstan and South Korea.
Media reports, however, put the number of tourists much higher, saying travellers from Russia, Germany and the US were barred from leaving the area due to the quarantine.
“After the quarantine was announced not many people, even locals, were in the streets for fear of catching the disease,”Sebastian Pique, a US Peace Corps volunteer living in the region, told the AFP news agency.
Flights into the city have been cancelled or diverted
As suspicions arose over the cause of their deaths, the Mongolian Ministry of Health initiated a quarantine over the area from May 1, which included the western city of Ulgii near the border with China and Russia.
Flights into the city were also diverted or cancelled, and a Mongolia-Russia border crossing was temporarily closed.
Among those under quarantine were a number of European tourists from Russia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany.
One such tourist – Russian national Evgeny Viluzhanin – wrote on Facebook: “thanks to the woolly fat hamster, I had to spend three days in the city of Ulgii.”
He added: “While we were cold on the glacier, quarantine was announced here, and at night at the entrance of the city we were wildly tired and embraced by local police.”
Another Russian tourist was quoted in the Siberian Times as saying she thought the bubonic plague was something to only exist in the Dark Ages.
“This is just so surreal,” she said.
Mongolian authorities eventually lifted the quarantine on Monday evening, allowing tourists to leave.
In a statement, the health ministry said 124 people had been given antibiotics and were under a doctor’s supervision, but evidence of symptoms had not been found.
The plague can be extremely serious for humans, but if caught early can be treated with antibiotics, according to the World Health Organisation.
One of the most infamous cases of plague outbreaks in history include the Black Death, which killed an estimated 25 million people across Europe in the 14th century.
An outbreak in the UK 300 years later wiped out a fifth of the population of London.