Hundreds of American and Japanese nationals on Wednesday escaped the quarantined Chinese city of Wuhan, the centre of coronavirus epidemic, as the death toll soared to 132 and about 6,000 infections confirmed.
The scale of the deepening crisis was emphasised with the new infection number on the Chinese mainland exceeding that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2002-2003.
SARS, another respiratory virus transmitted between people, went on to claim nearly 800 lives around the world, with most of those fatalities in mainland China and Hong Kong.
The new virus has spread to more than 15 countries since it emerged out of Wuhan late last year, although all the confirmed fatalities have so far been in China.
Authorities last week imposed transport bans in and around Wuhan in an unprecedented quarantine effort, leaving more than 50 million people effectively trapped.
China has taken other extraordinary measures to try and stop the disease spreading, including bans on tour groups travelling overseas, suspending schools and extending the Lunar New Year holiday.
With global concerns mounting, US, Britain and various other countries have also advised their citizens against travelling to China.
Thousands of foreigners have been among those trapped in Wuhan, which has become a near ghost-town with car travel banned and residents staying indoors.
Countries have for days been scrambling to try and get their citizens out of Wuhan safely, but have faced huge logistical, medical and bureaucratic hurdles.
Japan and the United States on Wednesday were the first to evacuate some of their citizens from Wuhan.
About 200 people were aboard the Japanese flight, which landed in Tokyo on Wednesday morning.
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