Beijing: Chinese authorities on Saturday confirmed that the death toll from the deadly novel coronavirus in the country has increased to 259, with 11,791 infected cases in 31 provincial-level regions.
The National Health Commission said that 1,795 patients remained in critical condition, and 17,988 people were suspected of being infected with the virus as of Friday night, reports Xinhua news agency.
A total of 243 people had been discharged from hospital after recovery.
Friday saw 2,102 new confirmed cases, 5,019 new suspected cases, and 46 deaths — 45 in Hubei province and one in Chongqing municipality.
A total of 136,987 close contacts had been traced, the commission said, adding that among them, 6,509 were discharged on Friday, with 118,478 others still under observation.
As the coronavirus was spreading at an accelerated rate, the US on Friday declared a public health emergency and said it would deny entry to any foreign nationals who have visited China in the past two weeks.
US Health Secretary Alex Azar said American citizens returning from Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, would face 14 days of quarantine, while those coming from other parts of China would be allowed to monitor their own condition for a similar period, the BBC said in a report.
Citing the need to relieve pressure on authorities, he said that foreign nationals who had travelled in China in the past 14 days would be denied entry to the US.
Another confirmed case in the US on Friday brought the total number to seven, while 191 people were currently under observation.
The US announcement came as other countries around the world also scrambled to contain the spread of the new virus.
On Saturday, Australia said it would refuse entry to all non-citizens arriving from China and nationals coming from the Asian country would be quarantined for two weeks, according to the BBC report.
The UK, South Korea, Singapore and New Zealand were all expected to quarantine evacuees for two weeks to monitor them for symptoms and avoid contagion.
But, WHO spokesman Chris Lindmeier on Friday warned that closing borders could in fact accelerate its spread, with travellers entering countries unofficially.
“As we know from other scenarios, be it Ebola or other cases, whenever people want to travel, they will. And if the official paths are not opened, they will find unofficial paths,” the BBC quoted Lindmeier as saying.
He said the best way to track the virus was at official border crossings.
Meanwhile, estimates by the University of Hong Kong suggest the true total number of cases could be far higher than official figures suggest.
Outside China, confirmed cases were reported in Hong Kong, Macao, US, the UK, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, France, Vietnam, Germany, UAE, Canada, Italy, Russia, Cambodia, Finland, Sweden, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
However, no deaths were reported from any other country except China.
On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency over the new virus.