The State Department has urged U.S. citizens to reconsider traveling to China amid an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus there that has killed at least a hundred people and has begun to spread across the globe, Bloomberg reported on Monday. Authorities are also considering implementing stricter screenings at borders and is monitoring over 100 people to prevent its spread through the country.
That travel alert is the State Department’s second-highest at Level 3, up from the prior level of advising citizens to “exercise increased caution” and not travel to Wuhan, the Hubei province city where the outbreak is centered. Hubei itself is under a Level 4 “Do not travel” warning. According to CNN, the State Department has instructed all non-emergency personnel and their families to evacuate from Hubei and are arranging flights for those individuals and other U.S. citizens to fly home. An official with the department said that priority space on that flight will be given to those individuals most at risk of contracting the disease, CNN reported.
China’s National Health Commission said on Tuesday (local time) that there are now 4,515 confirmed cases and 106 deaths, up from 2,744 the day prior. CNN wrote that an estimated 57 million people in 15 cities across China are now under lockdown.
Many individuals apparently lack natural immunity to the coronavirus in question, 2019-nCoV. But it is known to generally only cause minor symptoms in the young and healthy and it’s not clear that it is any deadlier than the flu; Dr. Tom Inglesby, who is director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Health Security, told the Los Angeles Times that it is possible there have been hundreds to thousands more cases that official estimates missed because the symptoms were too minor.
Health officials believe that the virus requires close contact to spread. According to the Guardian, many unknowns remain including how severe the virus is—mortality rates using official numbers would be around three percent, though the potentially large number of unknown cases makes that number unreliable. Many of those who died were known to be over the age of 50 or in poor health. The World Health Organization has so far declined to declare a global health emergency, but experts consulted by Stat News said sustained global spread remains a possibility. The development and deployment of any possible vaccine remains months away at a minimum.
Centers for Disease Control director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Nancy Messonnier told reporters that there remains no at this time that the virus is “spreading in the community” in the U.S., according to Bloomberg, though federal health officials are still wary of the possibility of secondary transmission. The CDC said that of 110 individuals under observation, just five had tested positive for the virus and 32 had tested negative, with the remainder still awaiting test results.
According to Reuters, Canada has confirmed two cases and is investigating nearly 20 more, and has issued a less sweeping advisory calling on its citizens to avoid travel to Wuhan. No country outside China has confirmed more than eight cases, per the New York Times. Stock markets around the globe took a hit on Monday, particularly for firms tied to the Chinese tourist industry, and the yuan slid to its lowest level so far in 2020, potentially prolonging the worst economic slowdown in the country in nearly three decades.
Chinese authorities have faced harsh criticism of their handling of the outbreak, with experts telling the Times that the lockdowns are unlikely to help and may delay medical and humanitarian aid to the affected areas. Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang said that at least five million people had left before the cordon was imposed, the paper wrote. According to Reuters, he has conceded that initial efforts to control the coronavirus were “not good enough” and has indicated that he may resign over the outbreak.
Update: 10:20 p.m. ET: This article has been updated to reflect the increased number of confirmed cases reported by Chinese authorities on Jan. 28 (local time).