The United States and Japan flew citizens out of the Chinese city at the epicenter of a new virus outbreak on Wednesday, as the death toll rose sharply to 132 and the first case appeared in the Middle East.
The World Health Organization, WHO, has said it is confident in China’s ability to contain the coronavirus, but concern is mounting as health authorities reported the number of confirmed cases had jumped by 1,459 to 5,974.
Streets were deserted in many major cities as the number of deaths from the flu-like virus rose by 26 to 132, almost all in the province of Hubei, the capital of which is Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month in a wild animal market.
The central province of about 60 million people is under virtual lockdown.
“I was extremely worried that I was stuck there while the situation was changing very rapidly,” said Takeo Aoyama, who arrived in Tokyo on a chartered plane carrying 206 Japanese nationals out of Wuhan, with more flights planned.
“I feel really relieved,” Aoyama, an employee of Nippon Steel who was wearing a mask, told reporters at the airport in the Japanese capital.
Two of those evacuated had symptoms of pneumonia but a coronavirus diagnosis has not been confirmed, hospital representatives said later.
Concern is also growing over the impact of the virus on the world’s second-biggest economy, with airlines cutting flights to China – British Airways is the latest to announce a suspension – and global companies curbing employees’ travel there.
The gambling hub of Macau was virtually a ghost town, while malls and shopping centers in Asian capitals such as Bangkok were bare, with many who ventured outdoors wearing green or white masks.
Sectors from mining to luxury goods have been shaken by concerns about the possibility of a worst-case pandemic.
Hong Kong stocks took a beating on the first day of trading after the Lunar New Year break. Casino and financial stocks led the Hang Seng index 2.5% lower to a seven-month trough.
Regional markets, however, arrested their slide, with stocks in Japan, Australia, Korea and India steady or firmer and currencies mostly stable. Chinese markets resume trade on February 3.
“In our view, the worst is yet to come,” Japanese securities firm Nomura said in a note, warning of a severe near-term blow to China’s economy.