China raised the death toll from the new coronavirus to 361 and said at least 17,205 people had been infected on Sunday as American officials urged citizens not to “panic,” stressing the threat to the U.S. still remained low.
The new figures add to growing concern about the spread of the virus, particularly after the Philippines reported the first death outside of China.
China has effectively quarantined more than 50 million people in and around the city of Wuhan, where health officials saw the first case, but the virus has continued to spread and has now been seen in 23 other countries and territories.
Last week, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global health emergency, which does not carry the weight of law but can help the international community craft a coordinated response to an outbreak.
Some scientists are worried the coronavirus could become a pandemic, spreading to two or more continents and causing global repercussions. The mortality rate so far is about 2 percent, but scientists are still working to determine how transmittable the virus is and said the actual number of infected could be far higher than reported, according to The New York Times. In that situation, the death rate could fall as more mild cases are found.
The head of the World Health Organization’s Emergencies Program told STAT News this weekend the world should “keep trying” to contain the virus until doing so was “impossible.”
“There’s enough evidence to suggest that this virus can still be contained,” Mike Ryan told the outlet, saying China’s efforts to stop its spread are buying the rest of the world “precious lead time.” The country on Monday finished building a new, 1,000-bed hospital to treat infected patients, but some doctors say they are running out of testing kits and some medical supplies.
The U.S. has taken its own measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The State Department issued its top travel advisory for all of China on Thursday and urged citizens currently in the country to leave due to the spread of the virus. The Level 4: Do Not Travel warning is reserved for the world’s most dangerous places: Other countries under similar advisories include North Korea, South Sudan and Iraq.
The Department of Homeland Security on Sunday extended the number of airports that will handle passengers traveling from China or who have been in the country within the last 14 days, saying such travelers would be subject to enhanced screening. The agency has also said American citizens who have been in Hubei province may need to participate in mandatory quarantines of up to 14 days with health monitoring.
“While the overall risk to the American public remains low, funneling all flights with passengers who have recently been in China is the most important and prudent step we can take at this time to decrease the strain on public health officials screening incoming travelers,” Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, said in a statement. “We realize this could provide added stress and prolong travel times for some individuals, however public health and security experts agree these measures are necessary to contain the virus and protect the American people.”
Despite those measures, the White House sought to calm any fears about the virus spreading to the United States. National security adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday that as of yet, there was “no reason for Americans to panic.”
“This is something that is a low risk, we think, in the U.S.,” O’Brien said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the 11th case in the U.S. on Sunday. Around 200 Americans evacuated from Wuhan are currently under a two-week quarantine at a military base in California.