China sure of slaying ‘devil’ virus, Hong Kong to cut links
BEIJING (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday that China was sure of defeating a “devil” coronavirus that has killed 106 people, spread across the world and rattled financial markets.
Yet despite his confidence, international alarm was rising.
From France to Japan, governments were organizing evacuations, while Hong Kong – scene of anti-China unrest for months – planned to suspend rail and ferry links with the mainland.
Among countries pulling nationals out of Wuhan, the central city of 11 million people where the outbreak started, the United States’ Embassy in Beijing said a chartered plane would pick up its consular staff on Wednesday.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Xi met in Beijing to discuss how to protect Chinese and foreigners in areas affected by the virus and “possible” evacuation alternatives, a WHO spokesman said.
“The virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide,” state television quoted Xi as saying.
“China will strengthen international cooperation and welcomes the WHO participation in virus prevention … China is confident of winning the battle against the virus.”
Investors are fretting about the impact on the world’s second-biggest economy amid travel bans and an extended Lunar New Year holiday. Global stocks fell again, China’s yuan currency dipped to its weakest in 2020, and oil prices hit three-month lows.
OPEC wants to extend oil output cuts until at least June, with the possibility of deeper reductions if demand in China is significantly impacted, sources at the producers’ group said.
The flu-like virus has spread overseas, but none of the 106 deaths has been beyond China and all but six were in Wuhan, where the virus emerged last month, probably from illegally-traded wildlife.
However, cases in Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan where the virus has spread person-to-person – as opposed to a visitor from China arriving – have heightened concern.
“The reported human-to-human transmission in Germany and Japan is unsurprising to see,” said Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Britain’s University of Southampton.
“We will continue to see further similar cases outside of China, but the indications are at this stage that onwards transmission will be limited, so there will likely not be too many cases for example across Europe, and on a much lesser scale than we are seeing in China.”
Chinese-ruled Hong Kong said high-speed rail services to the mainland would be suspended from midnight on Thursday, while the number of flights would be halved.
Thailand confirmed six more infections among visitors from China, taking its tally to 14, the highest outside China. Far eastern Russian regions would close their borders with China until Feb. 7, Tass news agency said.
Wuhan is under virtual quarantine, with a lockdown on transport and bans on gatherings. Tens of millions of others in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, live under some form of travel curbs.
REMINDER OF SARS
The number of confirmed cases in China surged to 4,515 as of Monday from 2,835 the previous day, the government said.
Communist Party-ruled China has been eager to show it is transparent over this outbreak, after initially covering up the extent of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic that killed about 800 people globally in 2002-2003.
Known as “2019-nCoV”, the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia and, like other respiratory infections, it spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes. It is too early to know what its death rate will be, since there are likely to be many cases of milder disease going undetected.
It has an incubation of between one and 14 days.
A WHO panel of 16 independent experts twice last week declined to declare an international emergency. Traditionally, the WHO is reluctant to antagonize or ostracize countries dealing with epidemics for fear of undermining future willingness to report cases of infectious disease outbreaks.
Authorities in Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, have been the focus of public outrage on China’s heavily censored social media over what many see as a bungled initial response.
In rare public self-criticism, Mayor Zhou Xianwang said Wuhan’s management of the crisis was “not good enough” and indicated he was willing to resign. SARS, also believed to have originated in a wildlife market, led to a 45% plunge in air passenger demand in Asia. The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travelers now, and China’s share of the global economy has quadrupled.
Analysts said China’s travel and tourism would be the hardest-hit sectors, together with retail and liquor sales, though healthcare and online shopping were likely outperformers. With Chinese markets shut for the holiday, investors were selling the offshore yuan and the Australian dollar as a proxy for risk. The US S&P 500 closed down nearly 1.6%.