The Chinese health authorities yesterday reported another spike in confirmed cases of a new coronavirus as foreign governments announced stepped-up plans to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
The National Health Commission said 1,459 more cases had been reported, bringing the total number of infections to 5,974. The death toll climbed to 132.
In the United Arab Emirates, four members of a Chinese family were confirmed as being infected, making them the first cases to surface in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, both the United States and Japan began transporting their citizens out of Wuhan on specially chartered planes. The capital of Hubei province has been locked down as the authorities scramble to prevent the virus from spreading.
Several other countries, including France and South Korea, are planning evacuation flights today.
The number of people in China infected by the Wuhan virus has surpassed the 5,327 hit by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak on the mainland in 2003. But the current outbreak remains less deadly. Nearly 800 people died worldwide from Sars.
Dr Zhong Nanshan, one of China's top respiratory disease experts, who discovered Sars, noted that while the new virus was not as deadly as Sars, it has spread much faster because of a lack of symptoms in the early stages of infection.
There have been no super-spreaders - individuals who infect a large number of people - but Dr Zhong previously disclosed that one patient in Wuhan had infected 13 medical staff during brain surgery.
"It is very difficult to definitely estimate when the outbreak reaches its peak. But I think in one week or about 10 days, it will reach the climax, and then there will be no large-scale increases," he told the official Xinhua news agency.
The top-level working group in China dealing with the outbreak said in a statement last night that the situation remained "complex and serious". It warned that the outbreak had not reached a crest and the number of cases should spike.
It added that badly affected areas like Hubei may ask to delay the reopening of schools and offices.
The World Health Organisation will hold a meeting of its Emergency Committee today to discuss the outbreak and decide whether it constitutes an international emergency. The committee, composed of 16 independent experts, twice last week declined to declare a global emergency.