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New cases in China surpass SARS epidemic as infections grow abroad; WHO calls for emergency committee meeting

People line up outside a pharmacy to buy protective face masks, thermometers and hand sanitizers in Singapore on Wednesday. (Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

The World Health Organization will reconvene its emergency committee Thursday to determine whether the coronavirus outbreak amounts to a public health emergency of international concern, as the total number of people infected in mainland China surpassed those infected with SARS during the 2002-2003 epidemic.

Experts say a vaccine for the virus is still a long way off. Schools in Beijing have closed indefinitely, and foreigners who have been evacuated from Wuhan, which is at the epicenter of the outbreak, are starting to arrive in their home countries or at temporary screening sites, including via charter flights for Japanese and U.S. citizens.

Many countries are curtailing flights to China, with American Airlines suspending several routes scheduled for February and March. British Airways and German carrier Lufthansa also suspended flights, as did airlines in India and Kazakhstan. Here’s what we know:

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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