China faced deepening isolation over its coronavirus epidemic on Saturday as the death toll soared to 259, with the United States and Australia leading a growing list of nations to impose extraordinary Chinese travel bans.
With Britain, Russia and Sweden among the countries confirming their first infections, the virus has now spread to more than two dozen nations, sending governments scurrying to limit their exposure.
The US toughened its stance on Friday by declaring a national emergency, temporarily barring entry to foreigners who had been in China within the past two weeks. “Foreign nationals, other than immediate family of US citizens and permanent residents… will be denied entry into the US,” Health Secretary Alex Azar said.
Australia said it was barring entry to non-citizens arriving from China, while Australian citizens who had travelled there would be required to go into “self-isolation” for two weeks.
Vietnam suspended all flights from mainland China and Hong Kong effective from Saturday. Taiwan also initially appeared on the list of banned routes but references to the self-ruled island were later removed.
Similar expansive restrictions have been announced by countries including Italy, Singapore, and China’s northern neighbour Mongolia. The US, Japan, Britain, Germany and other nations had already advised their citizens not to travel to China.
Britain also said on Saturday that it was temporarily withdrawing some staff and their families from across the country, a day after the US State Department ordered embassy employees to send home family members under the age of 21.
Beijing insists it can contain the virus and called Washington’s advice against travel to China “unkind”. “Certainly it is not a gesture of goodwill,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
The US emergency declaration also requires Americans returning from Hubei province to be placed in mandatory 14-day quarantine, and health screening for American citizens coming from other parts of China. The economic fallout continued Saturday as Apple announced that all its China stores would be closed until February 9.
The health crisis has dented China’s international image and put Chinese nationals in difficult positions abroad, with complaints of racism.