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WHO Urges Countries To Brace For 'Local Outbreaks' Of Coronavirus

Drivers who work for a Pakistan-based Chinese company look on as they wear protective face masks before their temperatures are checked in Islamabad on January 30.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged governments around the world to prepare for local outbreaks of the coronavirus.

The February 1 announcement came as China raised the death toll in that country from the virus to 259. China reported 11,791 confirmed cases of the virus, making it worse than the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The WHO earlier in the week declared a global health emergency over the flu-like coronavirus. The organization has expressed concern that some cases outside China could involve human-to-human transmission of the virus.

"Countries need to get ready for possible importation in order to identify cases as early as possible and in order to be ready for domestic outbreak control, if that happens," the WHO representative in Beijing, Gauden Galea, told journalists.

In Geneva, WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that, despite the health emergency declaration, there was "no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade."

On January 31, the United States barred entry to most foreigners who visited China in the last two weeks and introduced other screening measures. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced similar measures on February 1, following such announcements earlier by Japan, Italy, Mongolia, and Singapore.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has criticized the U.S. travel ban as "unkind."

"Certainly it is not a gesture of goodwill," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on February 1.

At least 25 countries have reported cases of infection by the virus, mainly involving people returning from China or who have had contact with such people. No deaths have been reported outside of China.

The Kremlin said on February 1 that Russia would fly out Russians on February 3 and 4 from areas of China most seriously affected by the virus.

Russia also announced on February 1 that it is suspending a tourist visa-free program with China.

An EU evacuation flight from Wuhan was scheduled for February 1.

U.S. tech giant Apple announced on February 1 that it would close all its stores in mainland China at least until February 9 because of the virus.

With reporting by AP, The New York Times, Reuters, and dpa