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U.S., others impose restrictions as virus toll spikes further

Travelers wear face masks as a screen shows a video about the proper way to wear a mask at the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The U.S. advised against all travel to China on Friday after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of a new virus that has spread to more than a dozen countries a global emergency. (Mark Schiefelbein / AP)
By Deb Riechmann Associated Press

BEIJING – The death toll in China’s virus outbreak rose to 259 on Saturday and Beijing criticized Washington’s tightening of travel controls to bar most foreign nationals who visited the country within the past two weeks.

South Korea and India evacuated their citizens from the locked-down Chinese city at the center of an area where some 50 million people are barred from leaving in a sweeping anti-disease effort. Indonesia was sending a plane.

The number of confirmed infections in China rose to 11,791.

The United States declared a public health emergency Friday and President Donald Trump signed an order barring entry to foreign nationals, other than immediate family of American citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China within the last 14 days, which scientists say is the longest incubation period for the virus.

China’s government criticized the measure, which it said contradicted the World Health Organization’s appeal to avoid travel bans, and “unfriendly comments” that Beijing was failing to cooperate.

“Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the U.S. rushed to go in the opposite way. Certainly not a gesture of goodwill,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

Japan’s government announced similar restrictions late Friday barring entry to foreigners who visited Hubei province within the past two weeks or obtained visas issued there.

Also Saturday, the ruling Communist Party postponed the end of the Lunar New Year holiday in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, for an unspecified “appropriate extent” and appealed to the public there to stay home.

The holiday ends Sunday in the rest of the country following a three-day extension to postpone the return to factories and offices by hundreds of millions of Chinese workers. The official Xinhua News Agency said people in Hubei who work outside the province also were given an extended holiday.

The party’s decision “highlighted the importance of prevention and control of the epidemic among travelers,” Xinhua said.

Americans returning from China will be allowed into the country, but will face screening at select ports of entry and required to undertake 14 days of self-screening. Those returning from Hubei will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

Beginning Sunday, the United States will direct flights from China to seven major airports where passengers can be screened.

The WHO has declared the outbreak a global emergency.

The U.S. order followed a travel advisory for Americans to consider leaving China. Japan and Germany also advised against nonessential travel and Britain did as well, except for Hong Kong and Macao.

Singapore, a popular tourism and shopping destination, barred Chinese travelers, becoming the first Southeast Asian nation to do so.

A plane carrying Indians from Wuhan landed in New Delhi. The government said they would be quarantined for two weeks in a facility set up in a nearby city, Manesar.

South Korea’s second evacuation flight landed in Seoul with 330 people from Wuhan. They were to be screened for fever before being taken to two quarantine centers.

South Korea reported its 12th case of the new coronavirus on Saturday, which appeared to be a human-to-human transmission. Australia reported its ninth case.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the new patient was a 49-year-old Chinese national who works as a tour guide. He returned to South Korea on Jan. 19 from a business trip to Japan, where he contacted a Japanese citizen who later tested positive for the virus.

South Korea reported five new cases on Friday, including three human-to-human transmissions.

Since China informed WHO about the new virus in late December, at least 23 countries have reported cases, as scientists race to understand how exactly the virus is spreading and how severe it is.

Experts say there is significant evidence the virus is spreading among people in China, and WHO noted with its emergency declaration Thursday it was especially concerned that some cases abroad also involved human-to-human transmission.

WHO defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that poses a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.