US State Dept. advises against all travel to China as virus declared emergency

China has counted 170 deaths from the virus

(AP) – The U.S. State Department has advised against all travel to China due to an outbreak sparked by a new virus that has spread to a dozen countries.

The advisory says: “Those currently in China should consider departing using commercial means. The Department of State has requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel to China in light of the novel coronavirus.”

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global emergency after the number of cases spiked more than tenfold in a week, including the record number of deaths in 24 hours reported Friday.

A passenger wears face mask as she waits at immigration counter at Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Terminal in Sepang, Malaysia, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Malaysia has tightened control at its borders and banned travelers from China's Hubei province as virus cases in the country rose to 7.
A passenger wears face mask as she waits at immigration counter at Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Terminal in Sepang, Malaysia, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Malaysia has tightened control at its borders and banned travelers from China's Hubei province as virus cases in the country rose to 7. (Source: AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

China counted 9,692 confirmed cases with a death toll of 213, including 43 new fatalities.

The vast majority of the cases have been in Hubei province and its provincial capital, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

No deaths have been reported outside China.

The U.N. health agency defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

First U.S. person-to-person case

Health officials are reporting the first U.S. case of person-to-person spread of the virus.

The latest patient is married to the Chicago woman who got sick after she returned from a trip to China.

Both patients are in the hospital and under isolation. The man is in stable condition, and the woman is doing well, Illinois health officials said.

Authorities in Illinois are investigating people who have been in contact with the couple, but they said they do not see any signs that the virus is spreading among the general public at this time.

The new case announced Thursday is the sixth in the United States.

The other five were travelers who fell ill after returning from China. Experts have said they have expected additional cases in the U.S., and that at least some limited spread of the disease in the country was likely.

Cruise ship lockdown

The Costa Smeralda cruise ship is docked in the Civitavecchia port near Rome, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. Italian health authorities are screening passengers aboard after a passenger from Macao came down with flu-like symptoms amid the global scare about a new virus. Passengers are being kept on board pending check to determine the type of virus.
The Costa Smeralda cruise ship is docked in the Civitavecchia port near Rome, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. Italian health authorities are screening passengers aboard after a passenger from Macao came down with flu-like symptoms amid the global scare about a new virus. Passengers are being kept on board pending check to determine the type of virus. (Source: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini/AP)

A passenger on a cruise ship showing symptoms of coronavirus caused the vessel’s lockdown with around 7,000 people on board at an Italian port.

A Chinese woman in her 50s exhibited symptoms of the deadly respiratory illness. An Italian official told Bloomberg News on Thursday that preliminary medical reports indicated she did not have the virus.

The Costa Smeralda, owned by Carnival Corp., remains sitting in the port of Civitavecchia, near Rome, as further tests are performed.

China has counted 170 deaths from a new virus and more countries have reported infections, including some spread locally, as foreign evacuees from China’s worst-hit region were returning home to medical tests and even isolation.

World responds

European countries are stepping up their response to a deadly new virus.

Russia has ordered the closure of its long land border with China, while European airlines are scrapping flights to Chinese destinations.

A passenger plane headed from Portugal to China on Thursday to pick up hundreds of Europeans.

Another European airline has halted its flights to China, joining a half-dozen others.

Swedish retailer IKEA is shuttering its stores in China. And the Czech Republic says it is stopping issuing visas to Chinese citizens due to the outbreak.

Chinese officials have reported more than 7,800 cases in the country. Locally spread cases outside China have been a worrying concern among global health officials.

India and the Philippines reported their first cases, in a traveler and a student who had both been to the Chinese city where the new coronavirus first surfaced.

South Korea confirmed a case that was locally spread, in a man who had contact with a patient diagnosed earlier.

Experts worry such cases may mean the virus is spreading more easily.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization convened a committee to assess whether the outbreak warrants being declared a global emergency. The committee last week said it was too early to make that pronouncement.

Shares have fallen sharply in Europe and Asia as concern over the impact of the virus outbreak in China deepens.

Taiwan’s benchmark dived 5.8% as its market reopened Thursday after the Lunar New Year. Shares fell in Paris, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Overnight, stocks lost momentum on Wall Street as investors tuned in to a news conference by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

Foreign evacuees from the worst-hit region in central China begin returning home under close observation.

President Donald Trump has been conspicuously quiet about the spread of the new type of coronavirus.

The self-described germaphobe has had little to say in public about the new virus that so far has killed 170 people in China, sickened thousands more there and led to a handful of confirmed cases in the U.S.

Confidants say Trump’s careful approach is designed to avoid upsetting the stock market or angering China. In keeping with the low-profile response, the White House announced Wednesday night that a new task force will lead the U.S. response.

A North Korean health official says the country is intensifying efforts to prevent the spread of the new virus from China into the isolated country by blocking tourists, reducing flights and mobilizing screening efforts.

Kim Dong Gun, a director from the North’s Health Ministry, told The Associated Press the North has taken “strong preventative measures" so as not to allow the virus to come into the country.

Kim said the country has strengthened inspections and health workers are making efforts to segregate and cure any suspected patients.

North Korea has yet to report any illnesses from the new virus that has sickened thousands in neighboring China.

People on Pyongyang’s streets were wearing face masks and the North’s state media has ramped up coverage of the outbreak.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. Gray Media Group, Inc. contributed to the report. All rights reserved.