The State Department bumped its China travel advisory up to the highest threat level on Thursday, telling Americans not to travel to the country because of the deadly coronavirus.
“Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China,” where the coronavirus first appeared, the department said in issuing the Level 4 travel advisory.
The move comes hours after the World Health Organization determined the rapidly spreading outbreak of the respiratory illness constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern” after infected individuals were found in more than a dozen countries and the first person-to-person transmission was reported in the U.S.
“Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice,” the State Department said. “Those currently in China should consider departing using commercial means.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified at least six cases in the U.S. of the coronavirus, which causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, although many cases are as mild as the flu. Cases in the U.S. have been reported in Washington state, Chicago, California’s Los Angeles County and Orange County, and Arizona. All of the known cases occurred in people who had recently traveled to Wuhan save for the case of one woman in Chicago who seems to have contracted the virus from her husband.
The sickness has spread to every province in China, infecting more than 7,700 people and killing at least 170. Scientists in Wuhan believe the virus originated in bats, similar to the deadly Ebola virus, which killed thousands in West Africa several years ago.