Hong Kong coronavirus fears prompt US to allow consulate employees to leave area

The U.S. State Department is now allowing some employees and family members at its consulate in Hong Kong to leave the area as fears of a coronavirus outbreak there are growing.

The declaration this week – which applies to non-emergency U.S. government workers and their loved ones – comes as Hong Kong is imposing a 14-day quarantine for all people visiting the territory from mainland China.

“The Department of State made the decision to authorize voluntary departure from the U.S. Consulate General out of an abundance of caution related to uncertainties associated with the 2019-nCoV outbreak and to ensure the safety and security of U.S. Government personnel and family members,” it said in a statement.

People wearing protective suits stand near the Cheung Hong Estate, a public housing estate, during the evacuation of residents in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (AP)

People wearing protective suits stand near the Cheung Hong Estate, a public housing estate, during the evacuation of residents in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (AP)

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Even though staff at the consulate can leave, the facility will remain open and provide a full range of services to Americans abroad, the State Department added.

The novel coronavirus has killed more than 1,000 people and sickened more than 43,000 worldwide, according to figures compiled by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The vast majority of deaths and infections have occurred in mainland China, particularly in the Hubei province where the illness first began. Wuhan and 17 other cities already have been sealed off and quarantined, impacting 50 million people as Chinese officials continue efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

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One death has been reported in Hong Kong – a 39-year-old man who had visited Wuhan.

Health officials confirmed 10 additional cases of the virus in the city on Sunday, all but one of which were reported in the same family. The new cases bring the number of cases in Hong Kong to 49.

Fox News’ Rich Edson, Louis Casiano and Madeline Farber contributed to this report.