The World Health Organization is weighing whether China’s coronavirus outbreak constitutes a global public health emergency, as countries and businesses restrict their activities within the country in order to prevent new infections.
As of Wednesday, the death toll in China and the region has surpassed 130, and more than 6,000 cases have been confirmed. In the United States, there are still only 5 known cases. The WHO announced that 99% of cases are contained to China.
The virus, which originated in China’s transportation hub Wuhan, continues to upend travel, dampen investor sentiment and chill business conditions around the globe.
With case numbers on the rise, major industries are beginning to see disruptions. Starbucks (SBUX) announced on Tuesday it shuttered more than half its China-based stores, while American Airlines (AAL), Delta (DAL), United (UAL) British Airways, and other carriers restricted flights to and from the country.
Just this week, U.K., Hong Kong and Russia announced strict travel measures to and from mainland China, with the U.S. government expanding screening measures at key airports.
The U.S. is still weighing its response to the virus, and HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday his department is monitoring the situation continuously.
Yahoo Finance is following developments closely, and will bring you updates as they occur.
Markets remain closed in China, but Hong Kong investors returning from the Lunar Year holiday sharply sold-off stocks. Travel and leisure stocks remained under pressure, as investors priced in the possibility that the coronavirus would crimp flights and cruises.
Airlines, in particular, felt exposed and took action. Along with United, American and British Air, Lufthansa (DLAKY), Lion Air Group and Cathay Pacific (CPCAY) also announced Wednesday they would reduce or halt flights.
Food and entertainment companies have also shuttered locations in the areas affected by the virus, including Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and YumChina brands.
Meanwhile, cruises have been canceled and casinos in the area also operate under a cloud.
Yet some pharmaceutical and biotech stocks rallied on speculation some may be able to help develop a cure or a treatment. Large cap companies like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), AbbVie (ABBV) and Gilead Sciences (GILD) announced they have entered the race to find a vaccine. JNJ’s stock popped to a new intraday record on the news, even as the company continues to grapple with pressure from several major lawsuits.
What’s happening around the world
Governments have been evacuating citizens from China, including the U.S., which transported citizens and diplomats who landed at a military base in California Tuesday night.
Australia, meanwhile, is quarantining evacuees from China to Christmas Island.
The WHO has not yet declared the outbreak global public health emergency, though it is expected to do so at a meeting Thursday — after it admitted on Monday it had erred in assessing the virus’ risk level.
While most countries remain vigilant without any travel bans, the lack of a unilateral strategy and guideline is “a recipe for disaster,” according to Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO Health Emergencies Program.
Ryan, in a news conference Wednesday, said the Chinese government’s response was “highly organized” and “transparent” — a stark contrast to the criticisms the country faced during the SARS outbreak.
Chinese President Xi Jinping recently told the WHO the Chinese government is aggressively fighting the virus — calling it a “devil” in remarks that were widely circulated on Tuesday.
Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem