The latest developments give the strongest signal so far that the Chinese Communist Party is acknowledging the seriousness of the outbreak. President Xi Jinping said the country faced a “grave situation” after holding a special government meeting to address the crisis.
The US government said it had arranged a special flight on Tuesday to evacuate consulate staff and other American citizens.
In Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Australian embassy in Beijing and its consulate in Shanghai were working with local authorities to determine what assistance could be provided to Australians in the region.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade [DFAT] is working closely with Chinese authorities and international partners to consider possible assistance with travel for Australians from areas that are affected by Chinese travel restrictions,” Ms Payne said.
The Australian government has asked Australian citizens in Hubei province to register their location with DFAT.
Some expatriate parents living in Beijing and Shanghai were booking flights to their home countries on Sunday, worried their young children were at risk from the virus and concerned China could restrict travel out of those cities. A source at one airline said they had been inundated with bookings for young children and babies needing bassinets.
China on Sunday banned its citizens from joining tour groups overseas, including Australia, and within the country, but individual citizens could still travel.
While the World Health Authority has not yet called the outbreak a global health emergency, the virus continued to spread around the world. Australia has reported its first confirmed infection along with Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and the United States.
In Hong Kong, which was hit hard by the 2003 SARS virus, two cases of the coronavirus were confirmed. Authorities declared an emergency, suspended schools and closed Chinese New Year Celebrations.
Throughout China, public celebrations for the country’s biggest holiday were cancelled. Temples were also closed.
“It is a severe and complicated task to contain the epidemic,” Ma Xiaoguang, the governor of China’s National Health Commission told a press conference on Sunday.
China is building two new hospitals to cope with the expected influx of patients from the virus, which causes pneumonia. The elderly and people with existing health problems are most at risk. Images posted on social media showed hospitals in Wuhan choked with residents seeking treatment.
A number of doctors working in Wuhan hospitals were also reported to be infected.