China accuses US of creating and spreading panic amid outbreak

Chinese citizens wearing face masks check in to their Air China flight to Beijing, at Los Angeles International Airport, on Feb 2, 2020.
Chinese citizens wearing face masks check in to their Air China flight to Beijing, at Los Angeles International Airport, on Feb 2, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

China yesterday accused the United States of "creating and spreading panic" amid an outbreak of the new coronavirus that has infected more than 17,000 people worldwide and killed over 360, mostly in China.

The world's two biggest economies had emerged from months of talks to sign a deal on Jan 15 and avoid an all-out trade war just days before the spike in infections and deaths from the virus, which originated in Wuhan.

"The US government has not provided any substantial assistance to the Chinese side so far, but it was the first to evacuate diplomats from its consulate in Wuhan and embassy in Beijing," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told reporters in an online briefing.

Washington also announced travel curbs on all Chinese in the wake of the outbreak, "creating and spreading panic and taking the lead in a very bad" example, she added.

The total number of infections has passed 17,200 nationwide, with 2,829 new cases confirmed, China's National Health Commission said yesterday.

The virus has spread to at least 25 other countries and regions.

In its daily update, the commission said there had been 57 new deaths from the virus, bringing the national toll to 361, exceeding the country's death toll from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak, which killed 349 people in mainland China in 2002 and 2003.

In a short interview broadcast on Sunday, US President Donald Trump defended the travel curbs. "We can't have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem - the coronavirus," he told Fox News. He added that US officials had offered China "tremendous help" in dealing with the crisis, without elaborating.

Ms Hua singled out but stopped short of praising Canada for refusing to follow in America's footsteps in denying entry to all foreigners who had been to China recently.

China and Canada have been bickering over the arrest of Meng Wan-zhou, chief financial officer of China's telecoms giant Huawei, in Vancouver in December 2018 and her possible extradition to the US for violating sanctions on Iran. Meng turns 48 this month and is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei. In an apparent tit-for-tat, China has arrested two Canadians.

The Straits Times reached out to more than 10 Beijing-based foreign diplomats, eight of whom said their countries did not come under pressure from China to avoid following the US lead in barring entry of all inbound foreigners who had been to China recently. The others did not reply.

Ms Hua had earlier described as "unkind" US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' comments that the epidemic will accelerate the return of jobs from China to the US. She called US travel curbs on foreigners who had been to China within 14 days of their arrival "truly mean" and "certainly not a gesture of goodwill".

 
 
 

The US imposed the travel restrictions despite the World Health Organisation's (WHO) recommendation not to place travel bans on China. The WHO has said the epidemic constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, a designation that triggers tighter global containment measures and coordination.

Three major US airlines have suspended flights to China.

The US is not alone. Israel, Australia and New Zealand have also barred entry of foreigners if they have been to China recently.

Following a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, China's apex decision-making body, President Xi Jinping said yesterday that controlling the coronavirus is the most important task at hand.

He said the country needs to coordinate efforts to treat patients, ensure sufficient medical supplies and strive to reduce infection and mortality rates, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

During the meeting, Chinese leaders also said that there is a need to improve emergency management, "make up" for the shortcomings in the public health system and crack down on the wildlife trade, Xinhua reported.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2020, with the headline 'China accuses US of creating and spreading panic amid outbreak'. Print Edition | Subscribe