“Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China,” the Level 4 alert states, noting that the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern earlier that day.
“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 alert notes stated. “Those currently in China should consider departing using commercial means.”
A total of 129 cases have been reported in 22 other countries and regions, with no deaths outside China.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said all air traffic between Italy and China would stop, a more drastic measure than most countries have undertaken after Italy announced its first confirmed cases in two Chinese tourists.
International alarm over the new coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, in December, is driven by its rapid spread and the fact that infectious disease experts cannot yet know how deadly or contagious it is.
An increasing number of airlines have stopped flying to mainland China, including Air France KLM SA, British Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic, while others have reduced flights.
American Airlines’ pilots have filed a lawsuit seeking an immediate halt to China flights.
A U.S. flight attendant who recently landed from one major Chinese city said a big concern was spreading the virus to families or being quarantined while on a layover.
“I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation until I went there,” said the attendant, describing general paranoia on the return flight, with every passenger wearing a mask.
“Now I feel like I’m on a 14-day countdown,” said the attendant, referring to the 14-day incubation period for the virus, during which time Chinese health authorities say a person can be infectious.
Australia’s powerful Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) on Friday called for the immediate suspension all flights from China.
“Suspending flights originating from China may appear to be a drastic measure. But the consequence of inaction could be even more drastic. We need national leadership now,” TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said in a statement.
Foreign governments continued evacuating their citizens from Hubei and holding them in quarantine. The first of four planned flights carrying South Koreans landed at the Gimpo International Airport.
Around 700 South Koreans have signed up for evacuation. South Korea will quarantine all evacuees for 14 days, even if they show no symptoms.
Lockdown in Wuhan
The virus is believed to have originated late last year in a food market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife.
New cases are being reported every day around the world, spurring cuts to travel, and a surge in demand for protective face masks.
Medical experts say the rising number of human-to-human transmissions outside China suggests a greater potential for the virus to spread further.
In China, thousands of factory workers on Lunar New Year holidays may struggle to get back to work next week due to travel restrictions. While major firms such as Google and Sweden’s IKEA have closed China operations.
Four Chinese provinces, including Shandong and Heilongjiang in the country’s industrial rust-belt region, have asked companies not to start work before Feb. 10.
The CNN Wire contributed to this report