More countries issue entry restrictions for travellers who visited China amid virus fears

Here are the latest developments:

  • Infections have been reported in at least 24 countries outside mainland China.
  • Those countries include Australia, the U.K., France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, Thailand, the U.S., Canada.
  • Spain has reported its first detected case.
  • The U.S., Australia, Singapore and Japan will deny entry to foreign nationals who have recently been in China.
  • Some airlines have suspended or scaled back direct flights to China’s major cities.
  • U.S. reported its eighth case, a Boston man in his 20s who had returned from Wuhan. 

China’s death toll from a new virus rose to 259 on Saturday and a World Health Organization official said other governments need to prepare for “domestic outbreak control” if the disease spreads in their countries.

Beijing criticized Washington’s order barring entry to most foreigners who visited China in the past two weeks. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced similar measures on Saturday, following Japan and Singapore.

Meanwhile, South Korea and India flew hundreds of their citizens out of Wuhan, the city at the centre of an area where some 50 million people are prevented from leaving in a sweeping anti-virus effort. The evacuees went into a two-week quarantine. Indonesia also sent a plane.

The number of confirmed cases in China rose to 11,791, surpassing the number in the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. There were about 9,800 cases globally as of Friday afternoon. The virus’s rapid spread in two months prompted the World Health Organization on Thursday to declare it a global public health emergency.

WATCH: Construction of two coronavirus hospitals in China nears completion

Time-lapse video released on Friday shows one of two hospitals being built in the city of Wuhan, due to open on Monday. 1:43

Two hospitals are under construction in the suburbs of Wuhan, dedicated to treating pneumonia patients infected with the virus. The Huoshenshan Hospital is scheduled to open its doors on Monday. It will cover 34,000 square metres and have 1,000 beds. About 40 kilometres away, the Leishenshan Hospital is due to open on Wednesday, with a floor area of 75,000 square metres and 1,500 beds.

The photo on the left shows land-levelling at the construction site for Wuhan’s Huoshenshan hospital on Jan. 24, 2020. On the right, work continues on Jan. 30 on the facility, dedicated to treating patients with coronavirus. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

That emergency declaration “flipped the switch” from a cautious attitude earlier to recommending governments prepare for the possibility the virus might spread, said the WHO representative in Beijing, Gauden Galea. Most cases reported so far have been people who visited China or their family members.

The agency acted out of concern for poorer countries that might not be equipped to respond, said Galea. Such a declaration calls for a co-ordinated international response and can bring more money and resources.

WHO said it was especially concerned that some cases abroad involved human-to-human transmission.

“Countries need to get ready for possible importation in order to identify cases as early as possible and in order to be ready for a domestic outbreak control, if that happens,” Galea told The Associated Press.

Vietnam bans flights to and from China

On Saturday, Vietnam said it would stop all flights to and from China. The Vietnamese government said it would also stop issuing visas for foreign visitors who had been in China in the past two weeks. All permits granted for flights between Vietnam and China, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau have been revoked until further notice, the government said in a statement.

WATCH: What to know about air travel during coronavirus outbreak

A look at the travel restrictions, screening processes and precautions in place during the coronavirus outbreak. 2:00

Qatar Airways said it will suspend flights to mainland China from Monday until further notice, “due to significant operational challenges caused by entry restrictions imposed by several countries.”

On Friday, the United States declared a public health emergency and President Donald Trump signed an order barring entry to foreign nationals, other than immediate family of American citizens and permanent residents, who visited China within the last 14 days, which scientists say is the virus’s longest incubation period.

China criticized the U.S. controls, which it said contradicted the WHO’s appeal to avoid travel bans, and “unfriendly comments” that Beijing was failing to co-operate.

“Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the U.S. rushed to go in the opposite way. Certainly not a gesture of goodwill,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva that despite the emergency declaration, there is “no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.”

Meanwhile, the ruling Communist Party postponed the end of the Lunar New Year holiday in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, for an unspecified “appropriate extent” and appealed to the public there to stay home.

One person per household allowed out

Another locked-down city in Hubei, Huanggang, on Saturday banned almost all of its residents from leaving their homes in the most stringent controls imposed yet. The government said only one person from each household would be allowed out to shop for food once every two days.

“Others are not allowed to go out except for medical treatment, to do epidemic prevention and control work or to work in supermarkets and pharmacies,” it said in an announcement.

China’s increasingly drastic anti-disease controls started with the Jan. 23 suspension of plane, bus and train links to Wuhan, an industrial centre of 11 million people. The lockdown has spread to surrounding cities.

WATCH | WHO explains its handling of the coronavirus so far:

Now that it has declared an international public health emergency due to the coronavirus, the WHO is explaining its rationale. 9:39

The holiday, China’s busiest annual travel season, ends Sunday in the rest of the country following a three-day extension to postpone the return to factories and offices by hundreds of millions of workers. The official Xinhua News Agency said people in Hubei who work outside the province also were given an extended holiday.

The party decision “highlighted the importance of prevention and control of the epidemic among travellers,” Xinhua said.

A medical worker and a security guard stand at the entrance of a community health centre in Beijing on Saturday. (Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images)

Americans returning from China will be allowed into the country, but will face screening and are required to undertake 14 days of self-screening. Those returning from Hubei province will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

Beginning Sunday, the United States will direct flights from China to seven major airports where passengers can be screened.

Also Friday, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines suspended all flights between the United States and China. Other carriers including British Airways, Finnair and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific also have cancelled or cut back service to mainland China. The U.S. order followed a travel advisory for Americans to consider leaving China.

On Saturday, the Pentagon approved a request from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the use of military bases to accommodate 1,000 people who may have to be quarantined upon arrival from overseas. Nearly 200 Americans already are quarantined at a military base in Southern California after being evacuated from Wuhan. 

Japan and Germany also advised against non-essential travel to China and Britain did as well, except for Hong Kong and Macao.

A plane carrying Indians from Wuhan landed Saturday in New Delhi. The government said they would be quarantined in a nearby city, Manesar. Sri Lanka also pulled out more of its citizens and promised to bring out the remaining 204 students.

In Germany, an air force plane arrived in Frankfurt carrying 128 passengers who were expected to spend two weeks quarantined at a military base.

WATCH | Why health officials are focused on containing coronavirus:

B.C.’s provincial health officer explains why it’s critical to eradicate the coronavirus right now. 2:03

South Korea’s second evacuation flight landed in Seoul with 330 people from Wuhan. They were to be screened for fever before being taken to two quarantine centres.

South Korea also reported its 12th virus case, which appeared to be a human-to-human transmission. Spain reported its first detected case on Saturday, a German man who had close contact with an infected person in Germany and then travelled to the Canary Islands with some friends. The U.S. reported its eighth case, a Boston man in his 20s who had returned from Wuhan. 

At least 24 countries have reported cases since China informed WHO about the new virus in late December. Canada reported three confirmed cases in Ontario and one in B.C. At least 196 Canadians have asked Ottawa for help getting out of Wuhan. But China is preventing dual citizens, a status not recognized in China, from leaving.

The death rate in China is falling but the number of confirmed cases will keep growing because there are thousands of specimens from suspected cases yet to be tested, WHO’s Galea said.

“The case fatality ratio is settling out at a much lower level than we were reporting three, now four, weeks ago,” he said.

Both the new virus and SARS are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that cause the common cold. Experts say there is evidence the new virus is spreading among people in China.

Watch: We still don’t know what to call this coronavirus

Calling the pneumonia-like illness that started in Wuhan, China “the coronavirus” is problematic, but coming up with a better name is also tricky. 2:36

Although scientists expect to see limited transmission of the virus between people with family or other close contact, they are concerned about cases of infection spreading to people who might have less exposure.

In Japan, a tour guide and bus driver became infected after escorting two tour groups from Wuhan. In Germany, five employees of a German auto parts supplier became ill after a Chinese colleague visited, including two who had no direct contact with the woman. She showed no symptoms until her flight back to China.

Coronavirus risk in Canada low

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which is working alongside provinces and territories to monitor the novel coronavirus, says the risk to Canadians is low. 

Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist in Toronto, explains what’s happening with the virus and what Canadians should be aware of:

Infectious disease specialist says risk to Canadians is low 0:46

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