Evacuation from virus-hit China cities planned
US, Japan, France take steps to contain outbreak: Death toll rises to 56
News DeskÂ :
The United States, France and Japan have prepared to evacuate their citizens from the Chinese quarantined city that has become ground zero for a new deadly strain of coronavirus.
The US government is arranging a charter flight to evacuate American diplomats and citizens from the Chinese city Wuhan, reports CNN.
Meanwhile, China on Sunday expanded drastic travel restrictions to contain the coronavirus epidemic that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000.
China has locked down the hard-hit province of Hubei in the country's centre in an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people to slow the spread of the respiratory virus.
Its ability to spread appears to be "getting stronger" though it is "not as powerful as SARS", top Chinese health officials said at a press conference, adding that their knowledge of it is limited.
The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Outside the epicentre, four cities -- including Beijing, Shanghai and two in Shandong --Â Â Â Â announced bans on long-distance buses from entering or leaving their borders, a move that will affect millions of people travelling over the Lunar New Year holiday.
The popular southern province of Guangdong, Jiangxi in the centre, and three cities made it mandatory for residents to wear faces masks in public.
Originating in Hubei's capital of Wuhan, the virus has spread throughout China and around the world -- with cases confirmed in around a dozen countries as distant as the United States.
The US State Department said Sunday it was arranging a flight from Wuhan to San Francisco for consulate staff and other Americans in the city.
The flight is on Tuesday, it said in an email to Americans in China that warned of "extremely limited" capacity for private citizens.
France's government and the French carmaker PSA also said they were formulating plans to evacuate staff and families, who will be quarantined in a city in a neighbouring province.
Japan is coordinating with the Chinese government to swiftly evacuate its citizens, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
South Korea's consulate in Wuhan said it was conducting an online poll of its citizens there to gauge demand for a chartered flight out.
Instead of New Year revelry, Wuhan has been seized by an eerie calm that deepened on Sunday as new restrictions banned most road traffic in the metropolis of 11 million.
Loudspeakers broke the silence by offering tips slathered with bravado.
The virus has continued to spread across China despite the drastic travel restrictions and people wearing face masks
"Do not believe in rumours. Do not spread rumours. If you feel unwell, go to the hospital in time," the message said.
"Wuhan is a city that dares to face difficulties and keeps overcoming them," the female voice added, mentioning the deadly 2002-03 SARS epidemic and 1998 Yangtze River flooding.