China reported its biggest single-day jump in novel coronavirus deaths on Thursday, as global fears deepened with more infections confirmed overseas, including three Japanese evacuated from the outbreak’s epicentre.
The World Health Organization, which initially downplayed a disease that has now killed 170 in China , was readying to meet on Thursday to decide whether to declare it a global emergency.
At least 15 countries have confirmed infections. Airlines began cancelling flights servicing China on Wednesday, and more followed suit on Thursday.
Meanwhile, more than 6,000 tourists were put under lockdown aboard a cruise ship at an Italian port on Thursday after two Chinese passengers were isolated over fears they could be carrying the coronavirus.
Beijing has taken extraordinary steps to arrest the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.
The government on Thursday reported 38 new deaths in the preceding 24 hours, the highest one-day total since the virus was detected late last year. All but one of the new deaths were in Hubei.
The number of confirmed new cases also grew steadily to 7,711, the National Health Commission said. Another 81,000 people were under observation for possible infection.
Thousands of foreigners have been trapped in Wuhan since it was sealed off last week. Massive cities like Beijing and Shanghai were also eerily quiet as countless people followed advice to stay indoors, or at least wear masks when venturing out.
Japan and the United States on Wednesday became the first countries to organise airlifts from Wuhan for their citizens. A second U.S. flight is planned in the coming days. Britain was planning an evacuation of around 200 of its citizens early on Friday morning. Australia and New Zealand were among others organising similar operations.
Tokyo on Thursday reported that three people who were aboard the first evacuation flight had tested positive for the virus after landing back in Japan.
Two of the three infected passengers showed no symptoms, according to Japanese authorities, underscoring the difficulty detecting the coronavirus.