The World Health Organization declared a global emergency over the new coronavirus, as China reported Friday the death toll had climbed to 213 with nearly 10,000 infections.

The UN health agency based in Geneva had initially downplayed the threat posed by the disease, but revised its risk assessment after crisis talks.

"Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva on Thursday.

Medical staff in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak Medical staff in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak Photo: AFP / STR

"We must all act together now to limit further spread... We can only stop it together."

Tedros nevertheless said travel and trade restrictions with China were unnecessary to stem the spread of the virus, which has spread to more than 15 other countries.

Many countries have already urged their citizens not to visit China, while some have banned entry for travellers from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus first surfaced.

Map showing countries and territories where cases of the China virus have been confirmed, as of 0700 GMT, January 25 Map showing countries and territories where cases of the China virus have been confirmed, as of 0700 GMT, January 25 Photo: AFP / John SAEKI

The US reported its first case of a person catching the virus from another person on American soil -- a man in Chicago who contracted the illness from his wife, who had travelled to Wuhan.

Airlines began cancelling flights servicing China on Wednesday, and more followed suit on Thursday.

Israel barred all flights from China, while Russia said it was closing its far eastern border with China over the outbreak.

Passengers wearing face masks arrive on a flight from Asia at Los Angeles International Airport, California Passengers wearing face masks arrive on a flight from Asia at Los Angeles International Airport, California Photo: AFP / Mark RALSTON

More than 6,000 tourists were temporarily put under lockdown aboard a cruise ship at an Italian port after two Chinese passengers were isolated over fears they could be carrying the virus. They later tested negative for the illness.

Beijing has taken extreme steps to stop the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

The number of confirmed new cases of the coronavirus has grown steadily to 7,711 in China, while another 81,000 people are under observation The number of confirmed new cases of the coronavirus has grown steadily to 7,711 in China, while another 81,000 people are under observation Photo: AFP / NICOLAS ASFOURI

The government on Thursday reported 38 new deaths in the preceding 24 hours, the highest one-day total since the virus was detected late last year.

On Friday, the government reported 43 new deaths, bringing the total to 213.

All but two of the confirmed deaths on Thursday and Friday were in Hubei.

French doctor in Wuhan vows to stay in virus epicentre to help fight epidemic
"I think I'll be much more useful here than in France," says doctor Philippe Klein, the head of Wuhan's International SOS hospital. French doctor in Wuhan vows to stay in virus epicentre to help fight epidemic "I think I'll be much more useful here than in France," says doctor Philippe Klein, the head of Wuhan's International SOS hospital. Photo: AFPTV / Leo RAMIREZ

The National Health Commission said there were 1,982 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to just under 10,000.

Another 102,000 people were under medical observation with possible symptoms of the respiratory ailment.

The pathogen is believed to have emerged in a market that sold wild game, and spread during a Lunar New Year holiday season in which hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home or abroad.

Ambulances arrive at Haneda airport in Tokyo to meet a second charter flight carrying Japanese citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan Ambulances arrive at Haneda airport in Tokyo to meet a second charter flight carrying Japanese citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan Photo: JIJI PRESS / STR

Thousands of foreigners have been trapped in Wuhan since it was sealed off last week.

Japan and the United States on Wednesday became the first countries to organise airlifts from Wuhan for their citizens. A second US flight is planned in the coming days.

A sign in various languages, including Chinese, tells customers that masks have sold out at a pharmacy in Rome A sign in various languages, including Chinese, tells customers that masks have sold out at a pharmacy in Rome Photo: AFP / Alberto PIZZOLI

Britain was planning an evacuation of around 200 of its citizens early Friday, after receiving the necessary clearance from Beijing.

A French plane also left Wuhan on Friday, according to an AFP journalist on board the flight.

Australia and New Zealand were among others organising similar operations.

Tokyo on Thursday reported that three people who were aboard the first evacuation flight had tested positive for the virus after landing back in Japan.

Two of the three infected passengers showed no symptoms, underscoring the difficulty detecting the coronavirus.

Compounding fears, Japan was allowing the arrivals -- more than 400 have been repatriated after a second flight on Thursday -- to "self-quarantine".

In contrast, other countries organising evacuations said they were all planning to quarantine.

The virus is similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen. That outbreak also began in China and eventually killed nearly 800 people worldwide in 2002-03.

Major airlines that have suspended or reduced service to China include British Airways, German flag carrier Lufthansa, American Airlines, KLM and United.

Chinese efforts to halt the virus have included the suspension of classes nationwide and an extension of the Lunar New Year holiday.

All football matches across the country also will be postponed, the Chinese Football Association said on Thursday, including games in the top-tier Chinese Super League.

World stock markets tumbled again Thursday on fears that trouble in the "world's factory" would upset global supply chains and dent profits.

Toyota, IKEA, Starbucks, Tesla, McDonald's and tech giant Foxconn were among the corporate giants temporarily freezing production or closing large numbers of outlets in China.

Volkswagen announced Thursday its China joint-venture plants would not start production again before February 9.

US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the coronavirus posed a fresh risk to the world economy.

Throughout China, signs of paranoia multiplied, with residents of some Beijing residential compounds erecting makeshift barriers to their premises.

The crisis has caused food prices to spike, and the central government on Thursday blamed this partly on overzealous preventive measures, issuing a directive banning any roadblocks or other hindrances to food shipments.