Hundreds of foreign nationals have been evacuated from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak of a new coronavirus, as more deaths and cases were confirmed.
Flights departed with Japanese and US citizens while the European Commission said it would help repatriate European nationals after a request from France.
President Xi Jinping called the virus a “devil” but said China would defeat it.
A leading expert said it could take 10 more days for the outbreak to peak.
The number of deaths from the virus rose to 132 in China with 5,974 infections confirmed, the country’s National Health Commission said. At least 16 other countries around the world have also reported cases, but no deaths so far.
The virus is thought to have emerged from illegally traded wildlife at a seafood market in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. It causes severe acute respiratory infection and there is no specific cure or vaccine.
Who is being evacuated?
Some 200 Japanese nationals were airlifted from Wuhan while some 650 others had said they wanted to be repatriated. The Japanese government said new flights were being planned to evacuate them.
Also on Wednesday, workers from the local US consulate as well as some American citizens left the city.
The UK Foreign Office was arranging to evacuate some 200 British people who wanted to leave the area. But some UK citizens have criticised the government, claiming lack of support in returning home.
Separately, two aircraft to fly EU citizens home were scheduled, with 250 French nationals leaving on the first flight. South Korea said some 700 of its citizens would leave on four flights this week while other countries were assessing their options.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong announced plans to slash cross-border travel between the city and mainland China while other governments issued travel warnings.
Wuhan – as well as the wider Hubei province – is already effectively in a lockdown with strict transport restrictions in and out of the area. Wearing masks in public is now mandatory in some Chinese cities.
What’s the latest on the cases?
Confirmations of person-to-person transmission in Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan – as opposed to travellers bringing the virus from China – have heightened concern about the spread of the virus.
Leading Chinese respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan, who heads a team set up for the control and prevention of the virus, told Xinhua news agency: “I think in one week or about 10 days, it will reach the climax and then there will be no large-scale increases.”
China agreed for the World Health Organization (WHO) to send international experts to the country to help understand the virus and guide global response efforts. President Xi met WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Beijing and said: “The virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide.”
In another development, a Beijing hospital built in seven days in 2003 to accommodate patients with symptoms of the Sars virus is being refurbished for the coronavirus outbreak, the South China Morning Post reported. A similar hospital is being built in Wuhan and officials hope to have it finished in six days.
According to the WHO and national authorities, there have been more than 60 confirmed cases outside China. The largest number is in Thailand, where there are 14.
Fears grow over human-to-human transmission
The news of more human-to-human cases of the new coronavirus will add to fears about how far this outbreak might spread. The latest cases in Japan and Germany suggest that anyone coming into close contact with another infected person could catch it.
It is thought people with symptoms, such as a cough and fever, will be the most contagious.
But experts have not ruled out that people with no obvious signs of infection could also pose a risk. And it can take more than a week for a person to develop symptoms.
The advice is to avoid close contact with people who are infected – that means keeping enough distance to avoid breathing air or touching surfaces contaminated with respiratory droplets from others carrying and shedding the virus.