The World Health Organization has said foreign nationals should not be evacuated from China as countries rush to airlift their citizens to protect them from the novel coronavirus outbreak.

A girl wearing a face mask sits on a man's shoulders as they walk down a street in Beijing on January 28, 2020. China's death toll from the new coronavirus is causing mounting global concern as it rose by 25 to at least 106 on Tuesday.
A girl wearing a face mask sits on a man's shoulders as they walk down a street in Beijing on January 28, 2020. China's death toll from the new coronavirus is causing mounting global concern as it rose by 25 to at least 106 on Tuesday. (Mark Schiefelbein / AP)

The World Health Organization's (WHO) director-general said on Tuesday he is confident in China's ability to control and contain the spread of a new coronavirus, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday, as the death toll from the virus climbed to 106 in China with 4,515 confirmed cases.

At a meeting with authorities in Beijing, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he approved of the Chinese government's measures to curb the outbreak so far, according to a statement posted on the foreign affairs ministry's website.

The WHO called the epidemic "an emergency in China" on January 23, but stopped short of declaring it a global public health emergency. 

More than 50 cases have been confirmed in other places with nearly all of them involving Chinese tourists or people who visited Wuhan recently.

Tedros said he does not advocate the evacuation of foreign nationals currently in China, and urged people to stay calm.

More travel curbs

China on Tuesday urged its citizens to postpone travel abroad as it expanded unprecedented efforts to contain the viral outbreak and left other governments racing to pull their nationals from the contagion's epicentre.

Most of China's cases have been in Wuhan where the outbreak began in December, which experts believe emanated from a wild animal market in the city last month. 

Authorities initially sealed off Wuhan and other cities in central Hubei province late last week, trapping more than 50 million people, in a bid to contain the virus as the high-travel Lunar New Year holiday unfolded.

China then halted international and domestic group tours. It also imposed a wide range of travel restrictions inside China, including on long-distance buses.

But, with the death toll climbing and more fatalities reported in Chinese cities far away from Wuhan, authorities on Tuesday called for all overseas travel to be postponed.

This was "to protect the health and safety of Chinese and foreign people," the National Immigration Administration said.

The National Health Commission on Tuesday announced 26 new deaths –– mostly elderly –– bringing the nationwide total to 106.

Deaths have been confirmed in Beijing and Shanghai.

Another 7,000 more cases are suspected and awaiting confirmation.

Escape plans

Many thousands of foreigners have been trapped inside Wuhai, an industrial hub of 11 million people that has been turned into a near ghost-town under the lockdown.

With a ban on car travel to try and stop people infecting others, the streets of Wuhan are mostly deserted although its hospitals are overwhelmed.

"It's deeply stressful," Joseph Pacey, a 31-year-old Briton who teaches English in Wuhan, said.

"The virus is scary, but the biggest fear for me is that this thing will go on for months, and it will get harder and harder to get supplies, and to live."

A range of foreign governments have been trying to draw up plans to safely evacuate their citizens, but have faced major logistical and bureaucratic challenges.

Japan announced it would send a chartered flight on Tuesday evening to evacuate about 200 of 650 Japanese nationals.

"We will also bring with it aid supplies such as masks and protective suits for Chinese people as well as for Japanese nationals," Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in Tokyo.

Motegi said the plane would leave Wuhan on Wednesday morning and that more flights may follow.

If the mission succeeds, Japan would be the first country to airlift its citizens out of Wuhan.

A US-chartered flight bound for California had been scheduled to leave Wuhan on Tuesday with consular staff and some American citizens.

But the State Department said it was postponed to Wednesday, without giving a reason.

France has said it also intends to fly its citizens out at mid-week, and several other countries including Germany were considering doing so.

South Korea will evacuate citizens on Thursday. 

To minimise close contact between people, authorities have suspended more than 2,000 train services as well as shut down many bus services.

China has also extended the Lunar New Year holiday into next week to keep people at home, indefinitely postponing classes at schools and universities.

Yet the virus has shown little sign of slowing down.

Locking China in

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the high-speed rail service between the city and mainland China would be suspended from January 30, and all cross-border ferry services would also be suspended in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Wearing a green face mask, Lam told a press briefing the number of flights to mainland China would also be halved and personal travel permits for mainland Chinese to the city would be suspended.

Three regions in Russia's Far East have closed their borders with China until Febuary 7 amid fears over the outbreak of coronavirus in China, the TASS news agency cited the governor of Khabarovsk region as saying on Tuesday.

The closures affect border crossings in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Khabarovsk and Amur regions, TASS said. 

Landlocked Mongolia –– which is heavily dependent on trade with China –– took the drastic step of closing the border with its huge neighbour to cars, as well as shutting down schools and large gatherings.

North Korea will impose a one-month quarantine on all foreigners arriving from China in a bid to prevent the spread of a new coronavirus, the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang said on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Philippines have also announced tighter visa restrictions for people coming from China.

The US, Turkey and Germany have urged their citizens to "reconsider" all travel to China.

More than half a million South Koreans have signed a petition calling for a ban on visitors from China.

Global concerns

Germany, Canada and Sri Lanka announced their first infections on Monday, bringing the total number of countries outside China with confirmed cases to 15.

The WHO last week stopped short of declaring the outbreak a global emergency, which could have prompted a more aggressive international response such as travel restrictions.

But it now says it erred in originally calling the virus' worldwide threat "moderate", upgrading that late Sunday to "high."

Tedros remains in Beijing for talks with Chinese officials on the crisis.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies