The U.S. is continuing to advise against all travel to China after the World Health Organization declared the deadly Wuhan coronavirus a global health emergency.
The number of cases of a worrying new virus spiked more than tenfold in a week, including the highest death toll in a 24-hour period reported Friday.
The virus has infected almost 10,000 people globally in just two months, a worrying sign of its spread among people that prompted the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a global emergency.
The State Department’s travel advisory told Americans currently in China to consider departing using commercial means, and requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel in light of the virus.
Earlier Thursday, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first U.S. case of person-to-person coronavirus infection.
The latest infection is the Chicago-based husband of a woman in her 60s who recently returned from Wuhan, China, with the virus. Health officials said Thursday the man recently reported virus-like systems and was placed in isolation. Both are reported to be stable.
On Friday morning, China reported 9,692 confirmed cases with a death toll of 213, including 43 new fatalities. The vast majority of the cases have been in Hubei province and its provincial capital, Wuhan, where the first illnesses were detected in December. No deaths have been reported outside China.
The National Health Commission reported 171 cases have been “cured and discharged from hospital.” WHO noted most people who got the illness had milder cases, though 20% experienced severe symptoms. Symptoms of the new coronavirus include fever and cough and in severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia.
Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry said it will send charter flights to bring home residents of Hubei from overseas. It gave few details, but said those from Hubei and especially Wuhan would be sent directly back as soon as possible in light of the “practical difficulties” they were encountering.
»MORE: CDC expands coronavirus screening to 15 more U.S. airports
China has placed more than 50 million people in the region under virtual quarantine, while foreign countries, companies and airlines have cut back severely on travel to China and quarantined those who recently passed through Wuhan. The virus is believed to have a two-week incubation period, during which those infected can pass on the illness even if they show no symptoms such as fever and cough.
Since China informed WHO about the new virus in late December, at least 20 countries have reported cases, as scientists race to understand how exactly the virus is spreading and how severe it is.
»MORE: Map tracks coronavirus in real time
Experts say there is significant evidence the virus is spreading among people in China and WHO noted with its emergency declaration Thursday it was especially concerned that some cases abroad also involved human-to-human transmission. It defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.
“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China but because of what is happening in other countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva. “Our greatest concern is the potential for this virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it.
“This declaration is not a vote of non-confidence in China,” he said. “On the contrary, WHO continues to have the confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”
A declaration of a global emergency typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous governments to restrict travel and trade to affected countries. The announcement also imposes more disease reporting requirements on countries.
On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said it was authorizing the departure of family members and all non-emergency U.S. government employees from Beijing and the consulates in the cities of Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang. Staff from the Wuhan consulate departed earlier this week.
The decision was made “out of an abundance of caution related to logistical disruptions stemming from restricted transportation and availability of appropriate health care related to the novel coronavirus,” the embassy said.
The level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory is the highest grade of warning.
Japan and Germany also advised against non-essential travel and Britain did as well, except for Hong Kong and Macao.
Tedros said WHO was not recommending limiting travel or trade to China, where transport links have shut down in places and businesses including Starbucks and McDonald’s temporarily closing hundreds of shops.
The new virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened there during the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a cousin of the new virus. Both are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that can cause the common cold.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.