U.S. and others tighten curbs on travel to China, virus toll hits 213

The United States 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.

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

Singapore said it was suspending entry to travelers with a recent history of travel to China and suspending visas for Chinese passport holders. The ban 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 knock-on effect worldwide.

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The outbreak could “reverberate globally”, hitting supply chains, Moody’s said.

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 outbreak. Sangyong Motor said it would idle its plant in the South Korean city of Pyeongtaek from Feb. 4-12 for the same reason.

Home appliance maker Electrolux issued a similar warning. French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen said its three plants in Wuhan will remain closed until Feb. 14.

“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.

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But a jump in infections in two cities flanking Wuhan was fuelling fear that new hot spots were emerging. And people were leaving and entering Hubei by foot over a bridge spanning the Yangtze river, a Reuters witness said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had commended China for its efforts and said the WHO was not recommending curbs on travel or trade with Beijing. A WHO spokesman said keeping borders open prevented illegal or unofficial border crossings.

The number of confirmed cases in China has risen beyond 9,800, Beijing’s envoy to the United Nations in Vienna said. China’s Health Ministry said there were 15,238 suspected cases in China at the end of Thursday.

Some 131 cases have been reported in 23 other countries and regions.

The WHO has reported at least eight instances of human-to-human transmission in four countries: the United States, Germany, Japan and Vietnam. Thailand said on Friday it too had a case of human-to-human transmission.