Coronavirus: Travel restrictions on China fuelling 'panic', says ambassador to EU

Medical staff in protective suits attend to patients at Wuhan Fang Cang makeshift hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Travel restrictions imposed on China over its virus outbreak are only fuelling "panic" and threatening attempts to resume business, the country's ambassador to the EU warned on Tuesday (Feb 18).

Envoy Zhang Ming also told a media conference in Brussels that a US ban on non-American travellers from China could imperil a "phase one" trade deal signed last month.

"The impact of the epidemic on the global economy largely depends on global response. I wish to emphasise that the only thing to fear is fear itself, not the virus," Zhang said.

"WHO does not recommend travel or trade restrictions on China. Such restrictions would add to panic and disrupt the containment efforts."

Zhang pointed to Chinese government figures suggesting the coronavirus epidemic might be slowing to say that the economic impact from the disease was expected to be only shallow.

"There is some impact on the Chinese economy, yet the impact is limited, short-term, and manageable," he said.

"The epidemic will not change the positive prospects of the Chinese economy in the long term, the huge market demand offered by the 1.4 billion Chinese consumers, nor China's commitment to reform and opening up. There is no need for global investors to worry too much."

He also said that criticisms that China had reacted too slowly, without sufficient transparency and without regard for its citizens rights was misplaced.


"It is unfair to conclude that the Chinese government is not transparent due to the lack of knowledge of the virus at the very early stage. Openness and transparency are the most powerful weapons against the epidemic," he said.

The quarantine of tens of millions of Chinese had been "effective," he said, adding: "What we have been doing is protecting the most fundamental human right: the right to life."

On the US-China deal worked out last month to forge a fragile truce in what was becoming a full-fledged commercial war, Zhang railed against the US decision to bar travellers from entering America from China.

"I would be dishonest to say that there would be no impact at all... there is one thing that would affect the implementation of the deal: that is that the US has put a ban on travels between the two countries. This is not in line with the WHO's professional recommendations," he said.

The ambassador stated that he continued to work on preparing a visit to Beijing at the end of next month by the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and European Council President Charles Michel.

"Despite the epidemic outbreak, preparations for the summit don't stop," Zhang said.

However, two EU sources informed of preparations for that trip told AFP that it was being called off, because of the coronavirus outbreak. There was as yet no official declaration of its postponement.

Nearly 1,900 people have now died and more than 72,000 others infected by the virus in China, with hundreds more cases in some 25 countries.

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