Japan’s infection rate grew to 11 after three Japanese citizens among more than 200 on an evacuation flight Wednesday tested positive.
Officials had already confirmed two cases in which patients tested positive without having travelled to China, adding to anxiety over human-to-human transmission of the respiratory disease.
“We are in a truly new situation,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told parliament.
The fact that two of the three new confirmed Japanese cases showed no symptoms underscored the scale of the challenge for health workers.
The WHO has come under fire after it last week declined to declare a global health emergency.
The global health body’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed regret for what he called a “human error” in the WHO’s assessment.
WHO’s Emergency Committee will meet Thursday to decide whether to declare an emergency — which could lead to travel or trade barriers.
“The whole world needs to take action,” Michael Ryan, head of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, told reporters in Geneva.
A US charter flight from Wuhan arrived Wednesday at a California military base with nearly 200 consular staff and other Americans, who “cheered loudly” when the jet touched down, said an official with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All passengers were declared symptom-free but will remain isolated for days while they are monitored.
Some 250 French citizens and 100 other Europeans will be flown out of Wuhan on board two French planes this week.
Australia plans to house any citizens it evacuates from the city on an island normally used to detain asylum seekers.
A growing number of governments — including the United States, Britain and Germany — have advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China.
China also has urged its own citizens to delay trips abroad, after more than 15 countries confirmed infections.