BEIJING: The United States advised its people not to fly to China in the first major response to the World Health Organization’s announcement of a global emergency over the spread of coronavirus, as the Chinese authorities raised the toll to 213 deaths and nearly 10,000 infections Friday.
The State Department raised the alert to the highest level, telling its citizens not to travel to China due to an epidemic that has now spread to over 20 nations.
Hours earlier, after crisis talks in Geneva, the WHO, which faced criticism for initially downplaying the threat of the virus, revised its risk assessment.
“Our main concern is the virus ‘ potential to spread to countries with weaker health systems,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Tedros said China’s travel and trade controls were excessive, but officials and businesses around the world took matters into their own hands. Germany, Britain and other countries have issued warnings about traveling to China, major airlines have suspended or reduced flights to the country and Mongolia has stopped cross-border traffic with its vast southern neighbour.
Russia too, as a precaution, sealed its isolated far-eastern border with China. Many countries banned travelers from Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus emerged for the first time, while Italy and Israel blocked all flight connections with China on Thursday.
Impoverished Papua New Guinea has reached the point of banning all tourists from “Asian ports” The United States confirmed its first case of transmission of the virus from person to person on American soil — a man in Chicago who got it from his aunt, who had traveled to Wuhan.
In a sign of spreading paranoia, after two Chinese passengers fell ill, over 6,000 tourists were temporarily put under lockdown aboard a cruise ship at an Italian port. They subsequently tested negative for the virus. And American Airlines sued a pilot’s union in the United States to demand that it halt all flights to China.