Wuhan virus: China's UN ambassador says no need for 'unnecessary panic'

China's ambassador to the UN in Geneva Chen Xu briefs reporters in Geneva. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - China is decisively working to control the deadly outbreak of the novel coronavirus, its ambassador to the UN said on Friday (Jan 31), insisting there was no need for countries impose "excessive measures" like border closures.

"There is no need for unnecessary panic, and no need for excessive measures," Ambassador Chen Xu told reporters in Geneva.

The UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday declared the outbreak a global health emergency, but said it was not recommending any international trade or travel restrictions and urged the numerous countries already taking such measures to reconsider.

But with the disease - which has killed 213 people and infected nearly 10,000 in China - spreading to some 20 nations, governments, businesses and worried people around the world were taking matters into their own hands.

A range of countries have asked their nationals not to travel to China, airlines have suspended flights to the country, and several nations have gone so far as to ban entry by Chinese travellers, and especially those from Wuhan, the city in central Hubei province where the virus first surfaced last month.

Chen emphasised that the WHO had declared a global health emergency due to the threat of spread in other countries, and not because the agency lacked confidence in China's handling of situation.

Indeed, when he made the announcement on Thursday evening, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed that the "declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China.

On the contrary, WHO continues to have confidence in China's capacity to control the outbreak."

Chen said he hoped that WHO's declaration would prompt countries to listen to the UN agency's recommendations.

"I hope that a calm, rational, scientific and objective attitude will be adopted", he said.

"We don't believe it is advisable to take all of these measures, unnecessary or excessive measures to cut off the airline or to shut down the border."

A WHO spokesman also warned earlier on Friday that measures like closing official border crossings could be counterproductive, and could even accelerate the spread of the virus since people would seek unofficial and unmonitored routes.

Chen pointed to the extreme steps China has taken to stop the spread of the virus, which include effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

Such measures, he said, had prevented significant spread of the virus beyond China's borders, with only around 1 per cent of those infected so far in other countries.

"We have the capacity to defeat the disease... We are confident to win the fight against this epidemic."

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