Australia, Japan and Singapore announced strict travel controls Saturday on foreigners, who have been in China recently, over fears of the coronavirus, after the U.S. announced similar restrictions and declared a public health emergency the day before.
The action was taken as China’s government announced another jump in deaths from the outbreak.
Chinese officials in central Hubei province, where the outbreak began, said Saturday at least 259 people have died and nearly 12,000 have been infected by the virus.
The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency on Thursday, fearing the virus could spread to poorer countries that would have great difficulty containing it. The WHO has said it does not recommend that countries initiate any travel or trade restrictions with China. The WHO estimates the virus has been detected in at least 23 other countries, the majority involving those who visited China.
The continuing spread of the coronavirus led U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to also declare a public health emergency on Friday and deny entry into the country to any foreign national who has recently traveled to China, except for those travelers whose immediate family members are U.S. citizens.
He also said that any U.S. citizen who has traveled to China’s Hubei province within the past two weeks will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of 14 days, the incubation period for the virus.
The announcement came as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed a sixth case of coronavirus in the United States. Health officials say the latest patient is a man in Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, who became ill after traveling to China.
Australia said Saturday it was also barring foreigners who recently traveled to China from entering the country, and requiring returning citizens to quarantine themselves for 14 days.
Japan announced it is refusing entry to noncitizens who recently visited the Hubei province in the past 14 days, or to those who had passports issued there.
Singapore also announced a ban on new visitors from China, the first Southeast Asian country to do so. The government, which earlier denied entry only to arrivals from Hubei province, will still allow entry to citizens and permanent residents.
On Saturday two groups of stranded Hubei residents returned to China on chartered planes sent to Thailand and Malaysia by the Chinese government. The 199 Chinese nationals had been left without a way home when their return flights were canceled amid the virus scare. The state-owned Xinhua news agency reported that the retrieved passengers were screened for fever and anyone who displayed symptoms of the coronavirus would be “quarantined immediately.”
U.S. health officials Friday issued a two-week quarantine order for 195 Americans evacuated earlier this week from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak. The CDC said this was the first federal quarantine ordered since the 1960s, when there were fears of a smallpox outbreak.
Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden chided President Donald Trump Friday for reducing U.S. oversight of global health issues before the onset of the coronavirus crisis. Biden said now is not the time for Trump’s “hysterical xenophobia and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science.”
Matt Wolking, a Trump campaign spokesman, said the president “is listening to medical and scientific experts and taking every responsible precaution to protect the American people.”
Also Friday, the three U.S. airlines that fly to China announced they would suspend flights to the Chinese mainland.
American Airlines said it would stop flights to mainland China through March 27, but would continue flights to Hong Kong. The decision came after the American Airlines pilots union sued the company to immediately stop flights to and from China due to possible health threats posed by the coronavirus.
Delta said it would wait until Feb. 6 to stop flights and keep them suspended through April 30. Shortly after saying it would only reduce service to China, United Airlines also announced Friday it would suspend flights from Feb. 6 through March 28, but would maintain one flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong.
For all three airlines, these suspensions follow travel advisories issued by the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The State Department issued a Level 4-Do Not Travel advisory on Thursday and recommended that all Americans leave mainland China, drawing criticism from China’s government, which said the move was “certainly not a gesture of goodwill.”
Other international airlines have also suspended service to mainland China or announced plans to do so, including Air France, British Airways, Indonesia’s Lion Air, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, and Scandinavian Airlines.
Global stocks fell sharply Friday over concerns the outbreak of coronavirus would negatively impact the world economy.