President Xi Jinping said China was facing a “grave situation” as the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak jumped to 42, overshadowing Lunar New Year celebrations that began on Saturday.
China also announced further transport restrictions.
With more than 1,400 people infected worldwide, most of them in China, Hong Kong declared a virus emergency, scrapped celebrations and restricted links to mainland China.
Australia confirmed its first four cases and Canada its first on Saturday, after Malaysia confirmed four and France reported Europe’s first cases on Friday, as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a pandemic.
The United States is arranging a charter flight on Sunday to bring its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicenter of the outbreak, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said flights and high speed rail trips between the city and Wuhan will be halted. Schools in Hong Kong that are currently on Lunar New Year holidays will remain closed until February 17.
Xi held a politburo meeting on Saturday on measures to fight the “accelerating” outbreak, state television reported.
As of 8 p.m. local time (1200 GMT) on Saturday, the death toll in China had risen to 42, authorities reported. Some 1,372 people in China have been infected with the virus – traced to a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife.