WASHINGTON, USA – The United States told its citizens Thursday night, January 30, “do not travel” to China, raising its advisory status to the highest level of alert because of the coronavirus epidemic.
The State Department issued a level 4 warning – up from urging Americans to “reconsider” travel to China – and said any nationals in China now “should consider departing using commercial means.”
In the travel advisory, the department cited the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision that the “rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”
The WHO declared the global emergency earlier Thursday over the new coronavirus, which originated in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, as China reported the death toll had climbed to 213 with nearly 10,000 infections.
The UN health agency based in Geneva had initially downplayed the threat posed by the disease, but revised its risk assessment after crisis talks.
In the updated travel advisory, the State Department recalled that last week it had ordered the departure of all non-emergency US personnel and their family members from Wuhan.
“The US government has limited ability to provide emergency services to US citizens in Hubei province,” the advisory said.
The US reported its first case Thursday of a person catching the virus from another person on American soil – a man in Chicago who contracted the illness from his wife, who had travelled to Wuhan.
Many other countries have also urged their citizens not to visit China, while some have banned entry for travelers from Wuhan.
Airlines began cancelling flights servicing China on Wednesday, and more followed suit on Thursday.
Israel barred all flights from China, while Russia said it was closing its far eastern border with China over the outbreak.
More than 6,000 tourists were temporarily put under lockdown aboard a cruise ship at an Italian port after two Chinese passengers were isolated over fears they could be carrying the virus. They later tested negative for the illness.
In its advisory, the State Department warned US travelers they should “be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.”
“In an effort to contain the novel coronavirus, the Chinese authorities have suspended air, road, and rail travel in the area around Wuhan and placed restrictions on travel and other activities throughout the country,” it said.
Beijing has taken extreme steps to stop the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.
Thousands of foreigners have been trapped in Wuhan since it was sealed off last week.
The pathogen is believed to have emerged in a market that sold wild game, and spread during a Lunar New Year holiday season in which hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home or abroad. – Rappler.com