The death toll in China from the new coronavirus has risen to 170, as more countries announced plans to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak.
Some 7,711 people in China are now confirmed to have the infection, which has spread from Wuhan’s Hubei province to every one of China’s 31 provinces. Another 81,000 people were under observation for possible infection.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday urged governments around the world to “take action” over the SARS-like virus, cases of which have been confirmed in almost 20 countries.
The WHO will hold an urgent meeting on Thursday over whether the outbreak should be declared a global health emergency – a designation that can lead to increased international coordination.
Chinese authorities have taken extraordinary steps to arrest the virus’s spread, including effectively locking down more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.
Japanese automaker Toyota, Swedish furniture giant IKEA, tech giant Foxconn, Starbucks, Tesla and McDonald’s were among major corporate giants to temporarily freeze production or close large numbers of outlets in China.
As the “world’s factory”, the disruptions in China are expected to send ripples through supply chains globally, denting profits.
A US charter flight from Wuhan arrived Wednesday at a California military base with nearly 200 consular staff and other Americans, who “cheered loudly” when the jet touched down, said an official with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All passengers were declared symptom-free but will remain isolated for days while they are monitored.
Some 250 French citizens and 100 other Europeans will be flown out of Wuhan on board two French planes this week.
Australia plans to house any citizens it evacuates from the city on an island normally used to detain asylum seekers.
Major airlines that have suspended services to China include British Airways, German flag carrier Lufthansa, American Airlines, KLM, and United.
The contagion has spread to nearly every corner of China.
It has triggered fears in part due to its striking similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-03, which also began in China and eventually killed nearly 800 people worldwide.