Cardboard cutouts, displaying images of US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with masks used as a preventive measure against coronavirus, near a gift shop in Moscow, Russia, on March 23 2020. Picture: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA
Cardboard cutouts, displaying images of US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with masks used as a preventive measure against coronavirus, near a gift shop in Moscow, Russia, on March 23 2020. Picture: REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA

Beijing/Shanghai — Chinese President Xi Jinping told US President Donald Trump during a phone call on Friday that he would have China’s support in fighting the coronavirus, as the US faces the prospect of becoming the next global epicentre of the pandemic.

The US now has the most coronavirus cases of any country, with more than 85,000 infections and more than 1,300 deaths. Hospitals in cities such as New York and New Orleans are struggling to cope with the wave of patients.

Xi’s offer of assistance came amid a long-running war of words between Beijing and Washington over various issues including the coronavirus pandemic. Trump and some US officials have accused China of a lack of transparency on the virus, and Trump has at times called the coronavirus the “China virus” as it originated there, angering Beijing.

In the call, Xi reiterated to Trump that China had been open and transparent about the outbreak, according to an account of the conversation published by the Chinese foreign ministry.

Trump said on Twitter that he discussed the coronavirus outbreak “in great detail” with Xi. “China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the virus,” Trump tweeted. “We are working closely together. Much respect!”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the US, which saw more than 17,000 new coronavirus cases and nearly 300 deaths in the past 24 hours, is expected to become the epicentre of the pandemic.

China cuts flights

Like US hospitals now, China’s medical system struggled to contain the coronavirus just two months ago, but draconian city lockdowns and severe travel restrictions has seen China dramatically ease the epidemic.

Mainland China on Friday reported its first local coronavirus case in three days and 54 new imported cases, as Beijing ordered airlines to sharply cut international flights, for fear travellers could reignite the coronavirus outbreak.

The 55 new cases detected on Thursday were down from 67 a day earlier, the Chinese National Health Commission said on Friday, taking the tally of infections to 81,340 (with more than 74,000 recovered). China’s death toll stood at 3,292 as of Friday morning, up by five.

The central province of Hubei, with a population of about 60- million, reported no new cases on Thursday, a day after lifting a lockdown and re-opening its borders as the spread eased there.

The commercial capital of Shanghai reported the most new imported cases with 17, followed by 12 in the southern province of Guangdong and four each in the capital Beijing and the nearby city of Tianjin. Shanghai now has 125 patients who arrived from overseas, including 46 from Britain and 27 from the US.

Effective from Sunday, China has ordered its airlines to fly only one route to any country, on just one flight each week. Foreign airlines must comply with similar curbs on flights to China, though many had already halted services.

About 90% of current international flights into China will be suspended, cutting arrivals to 5,000 passengers a day, from 25,000, the civil aviation regulator said late on Thursday.

From Saturday, China will temporarily suspend entry for foreigners with valid visas and residence permits, in an interim measure, the foreign ministry added.

Before the new curbs, foreign nationals made up about 10% of the roughly 20,000 travellers arriving on international flights every day, an official of China’s National Immigration Administration said last week. As commercial flights dwindle, Chinese students from wealthy families are paying tens of thousands of dollars to fly home on private jets.

International demand for chartered and private flights into China increased 227% in March from a year earlier, said Shanghai-based private jet service provider iFlyPlus.

Notably, requests for flights from the US to China rose 10-fold in late March, iFlyPlus told Reuters.

Reuters