WASHINGTON - The United States State Department issued the highest travel advisory level on Thursday warning against traveling to China amid the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 200 people so far.
The State Department’s level 4 travel advisory said, “Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.”
The advisory cited the World Health Organization’s determination on Thursday that the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”
“Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Commercial carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China,” the advisory said.
Travelers currently in China should consider departing using commercial means, according to the advisory.
“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 advisory said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also reinforced the “Level 4 - Do Not Travel” advisory in a tweet on Thursday.
The advisory referred to the efforts of Chinese authorities, who have suspended air, road and rail travel in the area around Wuhan and placed restrictions on travel and other activities throughout the country to help contain the novel coronavirus.
“On January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members from Wuhan. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province,” the advisory added.
Lastly, the travel advisory included a reference to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing a warming for all of China.
The state department’s travel advisory levels start with Level 1: Exercise normal precautions, Level 2: Exercise increased caution, Level 3: Reconsider travel and then Level 4: Do not travel.
The number of coronavirus cases spiked more than tenfold in a week, including the highest death toll in a 24-hour period reported Friday.
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.
China first informed WHO about cases of the new virus in late December. Eighteen other countries have since 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 have noted with concern instances in other countries — including the United States, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea and Vietnam — where there have also been isolated cases of human-to-human transmission.
Meanwhile, the WHO’s declaration of a global emergency amid the outbreak typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous governments to restrict travel and trade to affected countries. The announcement also imposes more disease reporting requirements on countries.
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.
The new virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened there during the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a cousin of the new virus. Both are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that can cause the common cold.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.