Japanese companies are scrambling to ensure that employees at their bases in China are taking measures to avoid contracting a deadly new coronavirus that is spreading around the world.

As the number of infection cases has spiked in recent days, the Foreign Ministry raised the alert level that covers travel and infectious diseases from 1 to 2 for Wuhan, where the strain is believed to have originated, on Jan. 23. Citizens are urged to avoid non-essential travel there.

Level 1, which was issued two days earlier and urges the public to exercise caution, remains active for the rest of China.

The virus, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms, has led to at least 17 deaths, with more than 500 infected globally, including one case of infection in Japan confirmed last week.

The government raised the alert level partly owing to a decision by authorities in China to bar its residents from Wuhan unless necessary. The city of more than 11 million people planned to cancel outbound flights and trains Jan. 23 in an effort to contain the virus.

Japanese firms, which operate many joint businesses with Chinese partners, have also taken steps to keep the disease caused by the virus at bay.

Honda Motor Co. on Jan. 22 issued a ban on travel to Wuhan for its global employees. About 12,600 people work at the headquarters and three factories of joint venture Dongfeng Honda Automobile Co. No infections have been reported among employees there so far.

Dongfeng Honda completed its third factory in April, with the total output of the three Wuhan factories accounting for half of the overall annual production capacity of 1.2 million units by Honda affiliates in China.

Honda's business results could be affected if factory operations were disrupted by the spread of the virus.

Nissan Motor Co., whose main office for Dongfeng Motor Corp., its joint venture with a Chinese partner, is also in Wuhan, urged employees there to wear protective masks, wash their hands and gargle and avoid a seafood market where the virus is believed to have first spread, and contact with animals.

Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp. on Jan. 22 directed its affiliates, including Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. and Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corp., not to travel to Wuhan and nearby cities unless absolutely necessary.

Nippon Steel Corp. issued a similar directive on Jan. 8, while JFE Steel Corp. and Kobe Steel Ltd. did so on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22, respectively.

Aeon Co., which runs three Aeon Mall shopping complexes and five supermarkets in Wuhan, instructed local employees to take measures to avoid infection and to notify the company immediately if any irregularity is found.

Senior officials of department stores in Japan have voiced concern over the possibility of the spread of the virus by travelers, as about 30 percent of overseas visitors are from China.

"All signs point to the further spread of the disease, so we want immigration authorities to conduct thorough checks of travelers when they enter Japan," Shigeki Yamazaki, managing director at the Japan Department Stores Association, said at a news conference on Jan. 22.

He said the association asked member department stores to be on alert over the virus.