Fears As Number Of Coronavirus Cases Overtake SARS Epidemic
Infections from China's coronavirus have spread to more than 8100 people globally, surpassing the SARS epidemic's total.
The vast majority of patients are in China where the virus originated in an illegal wildlife market in Wuhan.
It has so far killed at least 212 people.
But more than 100 cases have emerged in other countries, from Japan to the US, spurring anti-China sentiment and a wave of mask-buying.
South Korean firm Kukje Pharma is considering doubling or tripling shifts to cope with a rush of orders for "tens of millions" of masks.
"There's only so much we can do," an official at the firm said on Thursday.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), which has so far held off declaring the flu-like coronavirus a global emergency, has begun another meeting in Geneva to reconsider.
Such a declaration would trigger tighter containment and information-sharing guidelines, but may disappoint Beijing, which had expressed confidence in defeating the "devil" virus.
It could also further spook markets, already shuddering at the ripple effects of damage to China's economy.
Chris Weston, head of research at Melbourne brokerage Pepperstone, said an emergency declaration by the WHO could alarm investors.
"The fear is that they (the WHO) might raise the alarm bells ... so people are taking money off the table," he said.
The 2002-2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome also came from China, killing about 800 people and costing the global economy an estimated $US33 billion ($49 billion AUD).
Economists fear the impact could be bigger this time as China now accounts for a larger share of the world economy.
One government analyst has forecast the crisis would lop a percentage point off China's first-quarter growth.
Global stocks tumbled on Thursday, while the yuan hit its lowest this year and oil prices slid.
Almost all the deaths have been in Hubei province - of which Wuhan is the capital - where 60 million people are living under virtual lockdown.
One of 60 Myanmar students trapped in Wuhan said most of the shops there were closed.
"We cannot go out and buy food," Si Thu Tun told online news outlet the Democratic Voice of Burma.
"Honestly, I have one big potato and three packs of instant noodles and some rice," he said.
Myanmar plans a special flight to get the students out within three days.
Australia, South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand and Indonesia were quarantining evacuees for at least two weeks, though the US and Japan planned shorter, voluntary isolation.
Three Japanese, from 206 evacuated on Wednesday, were infected, and two of them had not shown symptoms.
India was the latest nation to report a case, a student of Wuhan University. Meanwhile South Koreans protested at facilities earmarked as quarantine centres, throwing eggs at a minister.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for co-operation as the country prepared to evacuate the first of about 700 citizens from Wuhan.
The impact of the crisis even reached an Italian cruise ship, whose 6000 passengers were kept on board while tests were held on two Chinese travellers.