Coronavirus: China declines Cambodia PM’s request to visit virus epicentre

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived in China on Feb 5, 2020, and was greeted by Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Y at the Beijing Capital International Airport.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived in China on Feb 5, 2020, and was greeted by Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Y at the Beijing Capital International Airport.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - China turned down a request from Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen to visit the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak to comfort stranded Cambodian students as it could not “properly arrange” a trip to locked-down Wuhan city, state media said Wednesday (Feb 5). 

Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province have reported hundreds of deaths and thousands of infections, and more than 53 million people are living under tough restrictions. 

“Considering the fact that Wuhan is doing all it can to fight the outbreak, and given the tight schedule, a visit... cannot be properly arranged at this moment,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing Wednesday. 

While many countries have sent aircraft to evacuate their citizens, veteran strongman and staunch Beijing ally Hun Sen has been criticised for insisting Cambodians should stay put. 

He has called for calm over the virus, and last month threatened to kick out any reporters or officials wearing medical masks from a press briefing. 

The proposed visit to Wuhan was to “show the students warmth and to make sure they are not scared of the novel coronavirus,” Chinese state media reported. 

Hun Sen did meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping on Wednesday, footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed. 

Cambodia has reported one case of the new coronavirus – a Chinese man who arrived in the country from Wuhan. 

Only two fatalities have been reported outside mainland China so far – a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong who had travelled to Wuhan and a Chinese traveller from Wuhan who died in the Philippines.