Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday ordered the military to "shoulder responsibility" to contain the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 132 people, infected 6,000 others with six foreigners contracting the disease for the first time in China and spread to 17 countries.
President Xi, who heads the People's Liberation Army, told the military to keep their mission firmly in mind and shoulder responsibility to contribute to winning the battle against the novel coronavirus, which he has described as a "demon", state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Already, the military is pressing thousands of its medical personnel into Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly virus outbreak, to assist the doctors.
Xi's call to the military came as the number of confirmed cases of the fast spreading virus infection in mainland China reached 6,078 with 70 cases abroad, surpassing the cases witnessed during the SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, which had caused havoc in China in 2002-03. Over 800 people, mostly in China, died during the SARS epidemic.
The coronavirus, which first emerged in Wuhan in late December, has killed 132 people, infected over 6,000 others and spread to at least 17 countries, amid warnings by health experts that the epidemic may reach its peak in the next 10 days resulting in a big increase in number of cases.
The Chinese health authorities announced on Wednesday that 5,974 confirmed cases of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus had been reported in 31 provincial-level regions by Tuesday.
China's National Health Commission said in its daily report that 1,239 patients remained in critical condition and 9,239 people were suspected to be infected with the virus.
For the first-time, Tibet too reported a suspected case of coronavirus.
A total of 65,537 close contacts had been traced, the commission said, adding that among them 1,604 were discharged after medical observation on Tuesday. A total of 59,990 people were still under medical observation.
For the first time since the virus surfaced in December, six foreigners, including four Pakistanis and two Australians, have contracted the virus, raising concerns among thousands of foreigners working in China.
Pakistan confirmed that four of its nationals, all students, have been infected with the virus in Wuhan. Over 500 Pakistani students were in Wuhan.
Chinese officials said one of the Pakistani students who contracted the virus was found in Guangdong province.
Guangdong health commission deputy head Chen Zhusheng said the Pakistani and two Australians were in a stable condition but it was not known how they contracted the virus.
Chen did not give details of the Australians, but said the Pakistani was a student studying in Wuhan, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
Over 23,000 Indian students of which 21,000 are medical students are studying in China. India is preparing to airlift over 250 Indians from Wuhan and Hubei province. India has requested China for permission to operate two flights to bring back its nationals from Hubei province, officials said.
Meanwhile, a flight carrying 201 American passengers out of Wuhan is now flying to California following health screenings, US officials said.
As more countries evacuated their nationals from Wuhan, China reacted angrily reminding them about the confidence expressed by World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during his meeting with President Xi on Tuesday about Beijing's ability to deal with the virus.
"Under the strong leadership of the Chinese Communist party and the government, the nationwide prevention and control system is being advanced in a scientific and orderly way," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a statement to PTI here.
"The epidemic is generally preventable, controllable and treatable. China has taken a series of decisive measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic. We have the confidence, the capability and the resources to win the fight against this outbreak," she said.
Ghebreyesus "spoke highly of China's political determination and strong measures to prevent and control the epidemic. He disagreed with false statements and over reactions, and emphasized WHO's confidence in China's ability to prevent and control the outbreak," she said.
Hua, however, said China would make appropriate arrangements and provide necessary assistance and convenience for evacuation of foreigners from Wuhan.
Meanwhile, several global airlines, including Air India, British Airways, Lion Air and Indigo airline on Wednesday suspended their flights to Chinese cities as Beijing struggled to contain the rapid spread of the virus.
India, the US, the UK and Germany have already issued travel advisories against travelling to China. Beijing too has been asking Chinese not to travel at home and abroad because of the virus.
On Wednesday, the UAE reported the first known case in the Middle East.
Other airlines, including United Airlines, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific Airways, Lion Air have already cancelled some flights to China.
Air France suspended its three weekly flights to Wuhan on January 24, but as of Wednesday morning said it was maintaining its 23 weekly flights to Beijing and Shanghai.
Air India suspended its flights on Delhi-Shanghai route from January 31 to February 14. IndiGo airlines also suspended its flights on the Bengaluru-Hong Kong route from February 1 and on the Delhi-Chengdu route from February 1 to 20.