Chinese officials in central Hubei province, where the outbreak began, said Saturday at least 304 people have died and more than 14,000 have been infected by the virus.
The city of Wuhan in the Hubei province has been on lockdown for weeks, but China also announced a lockdown in the city of Wenzhou on Sunday, which is some 800 kilometers from Wuhan.
Reports, including some from Wuhan residents, indicate that early information about the outbreak was covered up, and many people, including doctors, speaking about the virus in December were threatened by the government or even detained.
"These rumors were already flying around the Chinese internet," Flora Fauna, an American Wuhan resident who asked to be referred to by her pseudonym, told VOA Mandarin about the beginning of the outbreak in December.
"So, in response, the city governments dispatched the police to arrest people who were spreading this information," she said.
The New York Times released a report over the weekend indicating that the Chinese government's early response to the virus may have worsened the epidemic.
Australia, Japan and Singapore announced strict travel controls Saturday on foreigners, who have been in China recently, over fears of the coronavirus, after the U.S. announced similar restrictions and declared a public health emergency the day before. Israel, Malaysia, Mongolia and the Philippines have announced similar measures.
Taiwan also announced more limited travel restrictions Saturday. The actions were taken as China’s government announced another jump in deaths from the outbreak.
Also Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved a request from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for help in housing 1,000 people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus and need to be quarantined upon arrival to the U.S. from overseas, the department said in a statement Saturday.
"HHS officials requested the Defense Department to provide several facilities capable of housing at least 250 people in individual rooms through Feb. 29, 2020," the statement said. It said the people would need to be held for 14 days, which is the incubation period for the virus.
The statement said, the Department of Defense "will only provide housing support, while HHS will be responsible for all care, transportation, and security of the evacuees." Four military installations were identified for use — two in California, and one each in Colorado and Texas — if they are needed.
The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency on Thursday, fearing the virus could spread to poorer countries that would have great difficulty containing it. The WHO has said it does not recommend that countries initiate any travel or trade restrictions with China. The virus has been detected in at least 27 countries, the majority of cases involving those who visited China.
The continuing spread of the coronavirus led U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to also declare a public health emergency on Friday and deny entry into the country to any foreign national who has recently traveled to China, except for those travelers whose immediate family members are U.S. citizens.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed eight cases of coronavirus in the United States. Health officials say the latest patient is a man in Massachusetts, who became ill after traveling to China.
Taiwan said it will prohibit Chinese citizens from China’s southeastern coastal province of Guangdong from entering the country beginning Sunday, Taiwan state media reported Saturday. Travelers who visited the Guangdong area recently will be quarantined for 14 days. The U.S. State Department raised the coronavirus Saturday in criticizing China for banning Twitter messages that reference Taiwan.
"Blocking Twitter users who make reference to Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, particularly given the global response to the coronavirus crisis, is outrageous, unacceptable, and not befitting of a U.N. organization," said an official statement released Saturday.
Also Saturday, two groups of stranded Hubei residents returned to China on chartered planes sent to Thailand and Malaysia by the Chinese government. The 199 Chinese nationals had been left without a way home when their return flights were canceled amid the virus scare. The state-owned Xinhua news agency reported the retrieved passengers were screened for fever and anyone who displayed symptoms of the coronavirus would be "quarantined immediately."
Members of a Hong Kong union for medical workers voted Saturday to go on strike Monday after the government dismissed their demand to close all entry points from China. The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance said more than 9,000 of its members vowed to participate in a 5-day strike.