“The risk of infection for Americans remains low and with these and our previous actions we are working to keep the risk low,” Azar said.
Americans returning from Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak, will be required to undergo 14 days of quarantine. Others returning from elsewhere in China will be allowed to self-monitor their condition for a similar period.
The US will also begin funnelling all flights to the US from China to seven major airports where passengers can be screened for illness.
The virus has infected almost 10,000 people globally in just two months, a troublesome sign that prompted the World Health Organisation to declare the outbreak a global emergency. The death toll stood at 213, including 43 new fatalities, all in China.
The announcement came hours after the State Department issued a level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory, the highest grade of warning, and told Americans in China to consider departing using commercial means. “Travellers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice,” the advisory said.
Hours later, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines announced they were suspending all flights between the US and China, joining several international carriers that have stopped flying to China as the virus outbreak continues to spread.
Meanwhile, US health officials issued a two-week quarantine order for the 195 Americans evacuated earlier this week from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. It was the first time a federal quarantine has been ordered since the 1960s, when one was enacted over concern about potential spread of smallpox, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“We understand this action may seem drastic. We would rather be remembered for over-reacting than under-reacting,” the CDC’s Dr Nancy Messonnier said. None of the Americans being housed at a Southern California military base has shown signs of illness.
China counted 9692 confirmed cases Friday, the vast majority in Hubei province and its provincial capital, Wuhan, where the first illnesses were detected in December.
The National Health Commission reported 171 cases have been “cured and discharged from hospital.” WHO has said most people who got the illness had milder cases, though 20% experienced severe symptoms. Symptoms include fever and cough, and in severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia.
China has placed more than 50 million people in the region under virtual quarantine, while foreign countries, companies and airlines have cut back severely on travel to China and quarantined those who recently passed through Wuhan. Infected people don’t show symptoms immediately and may be able to pass on the virus before they appear sick.
American Airlines said it was halting all flights starting Friday and running through March 27. Delta plans to wait until Feb. 6 to suspend China operations to help travellers in China leave the country. It said the stoppage will continue through April 30.