China says WHO chief against virus-related evacuations, as countries plan pull-outs
The head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday he was confident in China’s ability to contain a new coronavirus that has killed 106 people and that he did not think foreigners should be evacuated, China’s foreign ministry said.
A growing number of countries have said they will evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, a central city of 11 million people and the epicenter of the outbreak. A chartered plane taking out U.S. consulate staff was set to leave Wuhan on Wednesday, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Beijing said. Some space was being offered to other U.S. citizens.
India said it was preparing to evacuate its citizens from Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.
The concern is mounting about the impact of the coronavirus may have on the world’s second-biggest economy amid travel bans and an extended Lunar New Year holiday. Global stocks fell again, oil prices hit three-month lows and China’s yuan currency dipped to its weakest in 2020.
The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a meeting with State Councillor Wang Yi in Beijing, said he approved of the government’s measures to curb the outbreak, the foreign ministry said.
“Tedros said the WHO does not advocate for countries to evacuate their citizens from China, adding there was no need to overreact,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “He said the WHO is confident in China’s ability to prevent and control the epidemic.”
The WHO chief, who also met President Xi Jinping, was not available for comment. A WHO panel of 16 independent experts twice last week declined to declare an international emergency over the outbreak.
The flu-like virus has spread overseas, with Sri Lanka and Germany the latest countries to be hit, but none of the 106 deaths has been outside China and all but six have been in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month.
Thailand confirmed six more infections among visitors from China, taking its tally to 14, the highest outside China. Far eastern Russian regions would close their borders with China until Feb. 7, Tass news agency said, citing the regional government.
Chinese-ruled Hong Kong said cross-border ferry services would stop.
Wuhan, where the virus apparently jumped to a human in an illegal wildlife market, has been all but put under quarantine, with a lockdown on transport and bans on gatherings.
Tens of millions of others in Hubei live under some form of travel curbs set up to try to stifle the virus.
The WHO said only one of the overseas cases involved human-to-human transmission.
People wear masks as they wait for their train at a subway station in Shanghai, China January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
“That’s still one case too many. But we’re encouraged that so far we have not seen more human-to-human transmission outside China,” the WHO said on Twitter.
“We’re monitoring the outbreak constantly.”
Tuesday’s toll of 106 dead was up from 81 the day before. The number of total confirmed cases in China surged to 4,515 as of Monday from 2,835 the previous day, the National Health Commission said.
Analysts said China’s travel and tourism would be the hardest-hit sectors, together with retail and liquor sales, though healthcare and online shopping were seen as likely outperformers.
Officially known as “2019-nCoV”, the coronavirus can cause pneumonia, but it is too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.
Some health experts question whether China can contain it.
Chinese health officials say the incubation period could range from one to 14 days, and the virus is infectious during that time. The WHO estimated an incubation period of two to 10 days.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday offered China whatever help it needed, while the State Department said Americans should reconsider visiting China.
Canada, which has two infections and 19 potential cases, warned its citizens to avoid travel to Hubei.
Authorities in Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, have been the focus of public outrage on China’s heavily censored social media over what many see as a bungled initial response to the virus.
In rare public self-criticism, Mayor Zhou Xianwang said Wuhan’s management of the crisis was “not good enough” and indicated he was willing to resign.
China’s ambassador to the United Nations, following a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said his government put “paramount importance” on the epidemic and was working with the international community in a spirit of “openness, transparency and scientific coordination”.
Communist Party-ruled China has been eager to seem open in its handling of the epidemic after it was heavily criticized for efforts to cover up an epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed about 800 people globally in 2002-2003.
SARS, which was also believed to have originated in a wildlife market, led to a 45% plunge in air passenger demand in Asia. The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travellers now, and China’s share of the global economy has quadrupled.
With Chinese markets shut for the holiday, investors were selling the offshore yuan and the Australian dollar as a proxy for risk. Oil was also under pressure as fears about the wider fallout grew.
The U.S. S&P 500 closed down nearly 1.6%.
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