US warns citizens against travel to China as it confirms first human-to-human transmission

Reuters Shanghai, China Jan 31, 2020, 03.57 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

Eight instances of human-to-human transmission have been reported in four countries, the United States, Germany, Japan and Vietnam.

The United States warned Americans not to travel to China as the death toll from a new virus reached 213 on Friday and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency, and Britain confirmed its first two cases.

Stock markets steadied slightly after the WHO praised China's efforts to contain the virus, following a tumble the previous day over a rising toll in the world's second-biggest economy.

"Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan," the US State Department said in a new travel advisory on its website, raising the warning for China to the same level as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Also read: Wuhan virus death toll hits 213 in China, nearly 10000 infected

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament his government had decided to raise its infectious disease advisory level for China, urging citizens to avoid non-urgent trips.

Japan's advisory for China's central province of Hubei, where the virus first emerged in its capital of Wuhan in December, is a level higher, advising citizens not to travel there.

China has taken "the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures", a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in response to the WHO declaration, although Beijing has not commented on the U.S. travel warning.

"We have full confidence and capability to win this fight," Hua Chunying said in a statement.

Also read: Several countries seal border with China as coronavirus death toll increases

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had commended China for its efforts and said the WHO was not recommending curbs on travel or trade with the Asian giant.

He said the global emergency was declared because of the danger the virus could spread to countries with weak health systems, adding, "We must act now."

Chinese health authorities said the number of infections had risen to 9,692 by Thursday.

Also Read: First confirmed case in India, Kerala student tests positive

There have been no deaths outside China, although 131 cases have been reported in 23 other countries and regions, with the latest in Britain, where authorities said the two cases were from the same family.

The WHO has reported at least eight instances of human-to-human transmission in four countries, the United States, Germany, Japan and Vietnam.

Thailand said on Friday it too had a case of human-to-human transmission.

Fear and flights

Flu epidemics kill hundreds of thousands of people across the world each year, WHO figures show, but new viruses trigger alarm because their fatality and transmission rates are unknown and there are no vaccines.

Researchers worldwide are rushing to unlock the secrets of this virus and make a vaccine.

In Pics: Deadly virus outbreaks across the world which created panic in the past

Italy took a more drastic step than most countries, stopping all air traffic with China after announcing its first cases, in two Chinese tourists.

More airlines have stopped flying to mainland China, including Air France KLM SA, British Airways, Germany's Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic, while others have cut flights.

Japan's ANA Holdings said it may consider suspending China flights, media reported, after the airline said bookings for February flights leaving China had halved.

Several foreign governments evacuating citizens from Hubei are holding them in quarantine for the 14-day incubation period of the virus.

A plane carrying Britons and other Europeans left Wuhan on Friday, Britain's embassy said.

Japan, with 14 confirmed cases, said it would take special measures against the virus, including compulsory hospitalisation and the use of public funds for treatment.

It has sent three flights to bring citizens home.

The first of four planned flights taking South Koreans home landed on Friday, as tension simmered over quarantine centres that protesters have said are too close to homes.

China in turn is trying to bring home its tourists stranded abroad, with the state-run People's Daily saying two flights were sent on Thursday, to Thailand and Malaysia.

Economic risk

While markets took a breather on Friday after falls this week, apprehension is growing about the impact of the virus on China and the world.

"The fear of contagion risk is already evident in global financial markets," Moody's Investors Service said on Thursday.

Major firms, such as Alphabet Inc's Google and Sweden's IKEA, have suspended operations in China.

At least 15 Chinese municipalities and provinces have asked companies to extend the Lunar New Year holiday by a week, to Feb. 10.

China's statistics show that just over 2% of infected people have died, suggesting the virus is less deadly than the coronaviruses responsible for the 2002-2003 outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and an episode of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

But economists fear its impact could be bigger than SARS, which killed about 800 people at an estimated cost of $33 billion to the global economy, since China's share of the world economy is now far greater.

The effect could "reverberate globally", hitting supply chains, Moody's said, adding, "Global companies operating in the affected area may face output losses as a result of the evacuation of workers."

The virus is believed to have originated in a food market illegally selling wildlife in Wuhan. About 60 million people in Hubei province are living under virtual lockdown.

With new cases being reported around the world, the anti-China sentiment is emerging in some places and manufacturers are scrambling to meet demand for protective masks.

Facebook Inc said it would take down misinformation about the coronavirus, in a rare departure from its approach to health content.