U.S. ramps up anti-coronavirus measures at border as impact spreads

SHANGHAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States ramped up its response to the coronavirus epidemic on Friday, declaring a public health emergency and saying it would halt entry to foreign nationals who had been to China within the 14-day incubation period.

That measure followed on from an earlier travel advisory that warned Americans not to travel to China and angered Beijing.

Originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the flu-like virus first identified earlier in January has resulted in 213 deaths in China, according to local health authorities. Wuhan and the surrounding region of Hubei are in virtual quarantine.

More than 9,800 people have been infected in China and more than 130 cases reported in at least 25 other countries and regions, with Russia, Britain, Sweden and Italy all reporting their first cases on Thursday or Friday.

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that the epidemic constituted a public health emergency of international concern, a designation that triggers tighter global containment measures and coordination.

“Following the World Health Organization’s decision... I have today declared that the coronavirus presents a public health emergency in the United States,” U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said at a public briefing on Friday afternoon.

As of Sunday, U.S. citizens who had been in Hubei would be subject to compulsory quarantine, he said. Foreign nationals - aside from the immediate family of citizens and residents - who had traveled in China in the last 14 days would be denied entry, said Azar.

“The risk is low in the United States... but our job is to keep that risk low as much as we can,” he said.

The move will likely anger Beijing, which has only just started to mend tattered trade ties with Washington. Earlier on Friday, it criticized the U.S. travel warning.

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“The World Health Organization urged countries to avoid travel restrictions, but very soon after that, the United States did the opposite,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “It’s truly mean.”

Other countries have also advised citizens to put off non-urgent travel to China or restricted flights. After reporting its first two cases of the illness, Russia on Friday restricted direct flights to China, its biggest trade partner.

Singapore, a major travel hub in Asia, stopped entry of passengers with a recent history of travel to China and also suspended visas for Chinese passport holders.

Many airlines have chosen to cancel or reduce flights, with airline crews pressuring carriers to act.

Governments around the world are evacuating citizens from Hubei. A plane with 83 British and 27 foreign nationals landed in Britain on Friday, while Japan, with 14 confirmed cases, has sent three flights to bring citizens home.

The United States said it would channel all flights from China through seven airports. It has put 195 Americans evacuated to California this week in quarantine.

The virus has an incubation of between one and 14 days, and there are some limited signs it may also be able to spread before any symptoms show.

For a full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, click: here

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With major fallout inevitable for China’s economy, which is the world’s second largest, global shares posted their biggest weekly and monthly losses since August on Friday.

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

In the latest impact to big name corporations, South Korea's Hyundai Motor 005380.KS said it planned to halt production of a sport utility vehicle this weekend due to a supply disruption caused by the outbreak.

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Home appliance maker Electrolux ELUXb.ST issued a similar warning, French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen PEUP.PA said its three plants in Wuhan will remain closed until mid-February, and tractor maker Deere & Co DE.N said it was temporarily shutting its facilities in China.

WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said the WHO did not support travel or trade curbs. Tedros reiterated in a series of tweets on Friday that his organization had confidence in China’s capacity to control the 2019-nCoV virus.

“Travel restrictions can cause more harm than good by hindering info-sharing and medical supply chains and harming economies. We urge countries and companies to make evidence-based, consistent decisions.”

Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus - here


The roughly 60 million residents of Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital, have had movements curbed to try and slow the spread of the disease. But some people were leaving and entering the area by foot on a bridge over the Yangtze river, a Reuters witness said, and infections have jumped in two cities flanking Wuhan.

China’s statistics show just over 2% of infected people have died, suggesting the virus is less deadly than the 2002-2003 outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

But economists say its financial 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.

Like other respiratory infections, the coronavirus spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes. No deaths have been reported outside China, but it is still too early to know what its death rate will be.

“The issue now with this is that there’s a lot of unknowns,” said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Robert Redfield.

The WHO has reported at least eight cases of human-to-human transmission - as opposed to people coming infected from China - in four countries: the United States, Germany, Japan and Vietnam. Thailand said it too had such a case.

Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Muyu Xu, Ryan Woo and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Martin Pollard in Jiujiang, Felix Tam and Clare Jim in Hong Kong; John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Michelle Nichols at the U.N.; Gilles Guillaume in Paris; Dylan Martinez in Brize Norton; Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Makini Brice and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Nick Macfie and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Andrew Cawthorne and Jonathan Oatis