The number of deaths from the coronavirus epidemic in China has risen to 259, said the country’s health authority on Saturday, as the United States announced new border restrictions on foreign nationals who have been living in China.
Hubei Province, the hub of the disease, remains under virtual quarantine, with roads sealed off and public transport shut down, but the lockdown appears to be broken by small numbers of travelers.
In the context of fears that the virus could spread further abroad, the United States has announced measures to restrict entry to foreign nationals who have recently visited China. All three major U.S. airlines also said they would cancel flights to mainland China on Friday.
US declares virus emergency to travelers from China
Gauden Galea, China’s envoy for the World Health Organization, said there was no need for trade and travel restrictions.
“We’d like to see countries concentrate on prevention measures to identify possible cases imported and respond to any domestic outbreak,” Galea told Reuters on Saturday.
Approximately two dozen countries have reported confirmed cases of the virus, but the vast majority of those infected remain in China.
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Qantas Airways Ltd and Air New Zealand reported that international travel bans had forced them to suspend their direct flights to China on 9 February.
According to travel and data analytics company Cirium, nearly 10,000 flights have been suspended since coronavirus outbreak in China.
Several nations have filled special charter flights to repatriate Chinese citizens.
More than 300 South Koreans arrived home on a second charter flight from China on Saturday and were transported to a facility where they would be isolated for two weeks, the Ministry of Health said. Seven people on the flight had symptoms and were immediately sent to the hospital.
Cities across China have begun to introduce specific measures designed to curb pathogen spread. Tianjin, a city with approximately 15 million people in northern China, said all schools and businesses would be closed until further notice.
A senior crisis management group promised to take action to prevent a large increase in the number of people traveling after the extended Lunar New Year’s holiday.
Premier Li Keqiang’s team said they would coordinate with local governments to stagger the times when people are asked to go back to work.
The US-based China Human Rights Defenders urged the Chinese government to relax movement restrictions and combat discrimination against Wuhan and Hubei residents, adding that censorship had helped spread the virus.
“Human rights must not be a victim of the government’s work to contain the coronavirus outbreak that killed nearly 200 people and affected millions,” said the group.
The WHO, which declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday, praised China’s response to the outbreak.
Businesses, events disturbed
Efforts to contain the virus have nevertheless caused major disturbances and disrupted global economic growth.
The United Nations announced that it has postponed a main round of talks on a new biodiversity treaty that was originally scheduled to take place on February 24 in Kunming, in southwest China. The talks are now to be held in Rome.
Several high-profile sporting events have also been moved or postponed, the latest a badminton Olympic qualifier in Hainan province.
Walmart Inc, the world’s largest retailer, has announced that it is temporarily limiting “non-business critical travel” to China, while farm equipment manufacturer Deere & Co has temporarily closed its facilities in China, the latest of dozens of major travel and business-restricting companies due to the outbreak.
China’s National Health Commission said there were 2,102 new confirmed infections in China during Friday, bringing the cumulative total to 11,791.
China has the deadliest day as the global epidemic continues to fear
The local health commission in the province of Hubei, the epicenter of the epidemic, reported 45 new deaths on Friday earlier than Saturday, bringing the total to 249. The other death on Friday was in the southwestern town of Chongqing.
Hubei confirmed 1,347 new cases of infection on Friday, with the total reaching 7,153 by the end of the day.
The provincial capital of Hubei, Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated, reported 576 new confirmed cases throughout the day, and also saw 33 deaths from the virus. A total of 192 people have now died in Wuhan.