China confident it will beat ‘devil’ virus, Xi Jinping tells WHO chief
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and premier discussed protection measures and alternatives to evacuations
Beijing — Chinese President Xi Jinping told the visiting chief of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday that he is confident of winning the battle against a “devil” coronavirus that has killed at least 106 people and spread worldwide.
More countries are planning to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, a central city of 11-million people and epicentre of the outbreak. A chartered aircraft taking out US consulate staff was set to leave Wuhan on Wednesday, said a spokesperson at the US embassy in Beijing.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Xi discussed ways to protect Chinese and foreigners in areas affected by the coronavirus and “possible alternatives” to evacuations, said a WHO spokesperson.
“The virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide,” state television quoted Xi as saying.
“China will strengthen international co-operation and welcomes the WHO participation in virus prevention. We believe that the WHO and international community will give a calm, objective and rational assessment of the virus and China is confident of winning the battle against the virus.”
Concern is mounting about the effect 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.
A WHO panel of 16 independent experts twice last week declined to declare an international emergency. The spokesperson said an increase in cases and deaths in China would not necessarily trigger emergency status.
Traditionally, the WHO seeks to promote co-operation and avoid antagonising countries it is helping, or it risks a reaction that could undermine its humanitarian work.
The flu-like virus has spread overseas, with Sri Lanka and Germany the latest countries to be hit. But none of the 106 deaths was outside China and all but six have been in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month.
The WHO said only one of 45 confirmed cases in 13 countries outside China involved human-to-human transmission, in Vietnam. But a Japanese official said there was a suspected case of human-to-human transmission there too.
Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, the scene of sometimes violent anti-Beijing unrest for moths, announced plans on Tuesday to suspend high-speed rail and ferry links with the mainland.
High-speed rail services will be suspended from midnight on Thursday and the number of flights will be halved.
Thailand confirmed six more infections among visitors from China, taking its tally to 14, the highest outside China. Russian Far East regions would close their borders with China until February 7, Tass news agency said, citing the regional government.
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 stifling the virus.
Tuesday’s toll of 106 dead is 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, said the National Health Commission.
Communist Party-ruled China has been eager to show it is more transparent in handling this outbreak, after it was criticised for efforts to cover up an epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that killed about 800 people globally in 2002-2003.