China raps ‘mean’ U.S. for travel warning as virus toll reaches 213

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States drew China’s wrath with a travel warning on Friday while businesses struggled with supply problems from the coronavirus epidemic that has killed 213 people and been declared a global emergency.

Russia, Britain, Sweden and Italy all reported their first cases, Rome declaring its own national emergency as it sought to reconstruct the itinerary of two infected Chinese tourists.

“Do not travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan,” the U.S. State Department said, raising the warning for China to the same level as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Beijing, which has only just started to mend tattered trade ties with the United States, called that move “truly mean” given the World Health Organization (WHO) had commended its containment efforts and not recommended travel or trade curbs.

“The World Health Organization urged countries to avoid travel restrictions, but very soon after that, the United States did the opposite,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement. “It’s truly mean.”

Graphic: Online package of China virus news – here

Japan also advised citizens to put off non-urgent travel to China, while Bahrain recommended no travel to any country hit by the virus, and Iran urged a ban on all travelers from China.

Singapore, a major travel hub in Asia, stopped entry of passengers with a recent history of travel to China and also suspended visas for Chinese passport holders.

The ban extends to those just transiting Singapore.

With major fallout inevitable for the world’s No. 2 economy, global shares were heading for their biggest weekly losses since August on Friday, and oil and metals markets were showing even more brutal damage.

The outbreak could “reverberate globally”, Moody’s said.

In the latest impact to big name corporations, South Korea’s Hyundai Motor (005380.KS) said it planned to halt production of a sport utility vehicle this weekend to cope with a supply disruption caused by the outbreak. Sangyong Motor (003620.KS) said it would idle its plant in the South Korean city of Pyeongtaek from Feb. 4-12 for the same reason.

Home appliance maker Electrolux (ELUXb.ST) issued a similar warning. And French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA) said its three plants in Wuhan will remain closed until mid-February.

Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus – here

BEIJING: “WE WILL WIN”

After holding off as the crisis grew, the WHO said on Thursday the epidemic in China – which originated from animals in Wuhan city and has infected nearly 10,000 people – did constitute a public health emergency of international concern.

In response, spokeswoman Chunying said China had taken comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control steps. “We have full confidence and capability to win this fight,” she said.

The roughly 60 million residents of Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital, have had movements curbed to try and slow the spread. But some people were leaving and entering the area by foot on a bridge over the Yangtze river, a Reuters witness said, and infections have jumped in two cities flanking Wuhan.

Funeral parlour staff members in protective suits help a colleague with disinfection after they transferred a body at a hospital, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 30, 2020. Picture taken January 30, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS

Wuhan’s Communist Party chief said the city should have acted earlier to contain the virus.

The number of confirmed cases in China has risen beyond 9,800, Beijing’s envoy to the United Nations in Vienna said.

More than 130 cases have been reported in at least 25 other countries and regions.

The WHO has reported at least eight cases of human-to-human transmission – as opposed to people coming infected from China – in four countries: the United States, Germany, Japan and Vietnam. Thailand said it too had such a case.

EVACUATION FLIGHTS

Amid the rising public alarm, which has also brought a wave of anti-China sentiment around the world, various major airlines have stopped flying to mainland China, including Air France KLM SA (AIRF.PA), British Airways (ICAG.L), Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) and Virgin Atlantic. Others have cut flights.

Russia said all direct flights to China would be halted on Friday, with the exception of national airline Aeroflot. Iran also suspended flights to China, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) said it will temporarily suspend all remaining U.S.-China flights after the U.S. State Department travel advisory. American Airlines will suspend all U.S.-China flights, CNBC reported.

Governments around the world are evacuating citizens from Hubei and putting them in quarantine. A plane with 83 British and 27 foreign nationals landed in Britain on Friday.

Japan, with 14 confirmed cases, has sent three flights to bring citizens home. The first of four planned flights taking South Koreans home landed on Friday.

Slideshow (24 Images)

China’s statistics show just over 2% of infected people have died, suggesting the virus is less deadly than the 2002-2003 outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

But economists fear its impact could be bigger than SARS, which killed about 800 people at an estimated cost of $33 billion to the global economy, since China’s share of the world economy is now far greater.

There was rare good news, however, for movie fans as cinema attendance plummets across China: martial arts film “Enter the Fat Dragon” was to premiere via video streaming on Saturday, its makers said, after dropping plans for a theater debut.

Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Muyu Xu, Ryan Woo and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Martin Pollard in Jiujiang, Felix Tam and Clare Jim in Hong Kong; John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Michelle Nichols at the U.N.; Gilles Guillaume in Paris; Dylan Martinez in Brize Norton; Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Andrew Cawthorne

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