Coronavirus Isolates China as Countries Shut Borders, Issue Travel Warnings

Death toll stands at 213 and a 2% mortality rate, but outbreak could have global financial ramifications due to supply chain disruptions

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Police stand at a checkpoint at the Jiujiang Yangtze River Bridge that crosses from Hubei province in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, January 31, 2020.
Police stand at a checkpoint at the Jiujiang Yangtze River Bridge that crosses from Hubei province in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, China, January 31, 2020. Credit: THOMAS PETER/ REUTERS

The United States, Israel and other countries tightened travel curbs on Friday and businesses said they were facing supply problems because of the coronavirus in China, a day after the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency.

With the death toll rising to 213, all of them in China, the United States warned Americans not to travel to the Asian country, where the outbreak first appeared in Wuhan, capital of the central Hubei province.

There is a "huge reason to keep official border crossings open" to avoid people entering irregularly and going unchecked for symptoms, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a Geneva briefing. "If travel restrictions would be imposed we hope they are as short-lived as possible to try to continue the normal flow of life," he added.

Israel's Foreign Ministry recommended against travel to China and urged all residents to leave after suspending all direct flights to the country on Thursday. Israel will also bar entrance through sea land crossings to anyone who has visited China in the last two weeks and is not a citizen or resident of Israel. 

Japan advised citizens to put off non-urgent travel to China, Iran's health minister urged a ban on all travellers from China and Britain reported its first two cases of the virus.

Singapore said it was suspending entry to travellers with a recent history of travel to China and suspending visas for Chinese passport holders. The ban, effective on Saturday, will also apply to those transiting Singapore, a major travel hub.

Italy's government decided to declare a state of emergency and stopped all air traffic with China after announcing its first cases, in two Chinese tourists.

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 on the world's second-biggest economy and its global knock-on effect.

The outbreak 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."

Hyundai Motor said it planned to halt South Korean production of a sport utility vehicle this weekend to cope with a supply disruption caused by the virus outbreak. Sangyong Motor said it would idle its plant in the South Korean city of Pyeongtaek from Feb. 4 to Feb. 12 for the same reason.

Home appliance maker Electrolux issued a similar warning. Alphabet Inc's Google and Sweden's IKEA have already suspended operations in China.

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

China has taken "the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures", a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in response to the WHO declaration. Hubei is in virtual lockdown.

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

But people were leaving and entering Hubei by foot over a bridge spanning the Yangtze river, a Reuters witness said.

The number of confirmed cases in China has risen beyond 9,800, Beijing's envoy to the United Nations in Vienna said.

There have been no deaths outside China, although 131 cases have been reported in 23 other countries and regions.

China's statistics show 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.

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

Noa Landau and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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