Beijing: Countries began evacuating their citizens Wednesday from the Chinese city hardest-hit by a new virus that has now infected more people in China than were sickened in the country by SARS.

The number of confirmed cases jumped to 5,974, surpassing the 5,327 in mainland China during the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003.

The death toll rose to 132, which is still lower than the 348 people who were killed in China by SARS. Scientists say there are still many critical questions to be answered about the new virus, including just how transmissible and severe it is. China’s latest figures added 26 deaths, all but one in Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan. The number of cases rose 1,459 from the previous day, a smaller increase than the 1,771 new cases reported on Monday. More than 50 infections have been confirmed abroad.

Airlines across the globe suspended more flights to China, as governments clamped down on travel to help stop the spread of the deadly Wuhan virus. British Airways halted daily routes to Beijing and Shanghai from London’s Heathrow airport, after UK officials advised against non-essential travel. The UK flag carrier said it would reassess over the next few days. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. said separately it would cut capacity to China by 50 per cent or more starting Thursday, while United Airlines Inc. in the U.S. said it would reduce flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The global airline industry is starting to feel the impact of stepped-up efforts to stop the spread of the virus, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan. With clusters now cropping up in countries like Germany, airlines have placed other Chinese destinations off limits, and oil traders have dumped contracts for jet fuel in anticipation of an extended slowdown.

Almost 9 per cent of flights scheduled to or from China were scrapped between Jan. 23 and Jan. 27, according to research from Cirium, which analyses air travel.

Several South Korean carriers have also halted flights to Chinese cities, including Asiana Airlines Inc., Jeju Air Co. and Jin Air Co., while Finnair Oyj, Lion Air in Indonesia, Jetstar Airways’ Singapore operations and Air Macau Co. are among those taking similar steps.

India on Wednesday joined a growing list of countries to issue advisories against travel to China as the deadly coronavirus spreads. The Ministry of Health in a brief statement asked Indians to “refrain” from traveling to China in view of the spurt in coronavirus cases.

IndiGo, the country’s largest airline, also announced flight suspensions given the situation. It suspended its flight between Delhi and Chengdu from Feb. 1 to Feb. 20 and another flight from Bengaluru to Hong Kong. The airline said these are “temporary and precautionary” measures.

Authorities in India are in talks with the Chinese government to evacuate its citizens in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. Indian nationals in the region were asked to fill in an evacuation consent form which mandates that on return to India, they will undergo a 14-day quarantine. The form also asks for self-declaration of symptoms associated with coronavirus.

The outbreak has also affected international sporting events, with the International Hockey Federation postponing Pro League games in China, and qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics scheduled in February in soccer, basketball and boxing being moved outside of the country. With just 177 days before the summer games, Tokyo organisers are on edge over the outbreak’s possible knock-on effects.