China facing global isolation; toll up to 304

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    BEIJING. — China faced mounting isolation in the face of increasing international travel curbs and flight suspensions on Sunday, as the death toll from a spreading coronavirus outbreak rose to 304.

    The epidemic has led to mass evacuations of foreign citizens as world airlines halt flights, and risks exacerbating a slowdown in growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

    China’s central bank has promised to provide monetary and credit support to companies struggling due to the virus. It said it will inject a hefty 1.2 trillion yuan ($173.8 billion) worth of liquidity into the markets via reverse repo operations on Monday as the country prepares to reopen its stock markets after an extended Lunar New Year holiday.

    China Evergrande Group, the nation’s third-largest property developer, said in an internal note on Sunday it would extend its Lunar New Year holiday to Feb. 16, and suspend construction work at all of its 1,246 sites until Feb. 20.

    Also on Sunday, state media reported that construction of one of two hospitals in Wuhan dedicated to treating coronavirus patients has been completed. Huoshenshan, a hospital with 1,000 beds, was built in eight days and can receive patients from Monday, state media said.

    The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, but said global trade and travel restrictions are not needed.

    However, some countries are responding to fears of the virus spreading by ramping up border controls. Singapore and the United States announced measures on Friday to ban foreign nationals who have recently been to China from entering their territories, and Australia followed suit on Saturday.

    Russia introduced visa restrictions and will start evacuating Russian citizens on Monday and Tuesday, Interfax and TASS news agencies reported.

    The Philippines expanded its travel ban to include all foreigners coming from China, widening an earlier restriction that covered only those from Hubei province.

    New Zealand and Vietnam also barred foreigners who have been in China, with Vietnam saying it would halt all flights to and from China.

    Taiwan has asked its diplomats to talk to governments where Taiwanese airlines fly to ensure flights are not cut off due the island’s inclusion by the WHO as part of China.
    Meanwhile, nations continue to evacuate citizens from China.

    More than 100 Germans and family members landed in Frankfurt on Saturday after being evacuated from Wuhan. Around 250 Indonesians were also evacuated from Hubei.

    China will start making arrangements to fly back to Taiwan the first 200 Taiwanese who have been stranded in Hubei, Chinese state media reported on Sunday. China said about 500 Taiwanese are in the province.

    Japan plans to send another chartered plane mid-week or later to bring back Japanese nationals who are still in Hubei, its foreign ministry said on Sunday.

    Japan also confirmed an additional three cases of the new coronavirus among an earlier batch of evacuees, including one who initially tested negative, the health ministry said, bringing the country’s total to 20 cases.

    Japan has barred foreigners who have been in Hubei from entering the country, a move followed on Sunday by South Korea where the entry ban will go into effect on Tuesday, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said.

    Hubei has been under virtual quarantine for the last week, with roads sealed off and public transport shut down. The province extended its Lunar New Year holiday break to Feb. 13 in a bid to contain the outbreak.

    The number of deaths in Hubei from the outbreak had risen to 294 as of the end of Feb. 1, with a total of 9,074 cases, the majority in the capital city Wuhan, where the virus is thought to have emerged late last year in a market illegally trading wildlife.

    New confirmed cases also surged by 276 in nearby Huanggang. One death was reported in the city, about 60 km (37 miles) east of Wuhan.

    TAIWAN SCRAMBLES

    TAIPEI. – Taiwan is asking its diplomats to talk to governments where Taiwanese airlines fly to ensure more flights are not cut off due to the island’s inclusion by the World Health Organization as part of China due to the coronavirus outbreak.

    Taiwan has only reported 10 cases, compared to more than 14,000 in China, but as the WHO considers self-ruled Taiwan part of China, it has included it in its advice that China is “very high risk.”

    Taiwan is not a member of the WHO due to Chinese objections. China considers democratic Taiwan its own territory with no right to participate in international organizations unless it acknowledges it is part of China, something Taiwan’s government has refused to do.

    Italy last week ordered all flights between the country and China to be stopped based on the WHO categorization, including Taiwan’s China Airlines, the only Taiwanese airline to fly between the island and Italy.

    Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on Sunday they are asking their diplomats around the world in places where Taiwan airlines fly to explain that what the WHO is doing to include the island as part of China is wrong and should not be allowed to affect flights.

    “Taiwan is Taiwan. Taiwan is not a part of the People’s Republic of China,” he told reporters in Taipei, adding they had totally separate health and airline management systems. “This simple reality the WHO should not get wrong.”

    No other place aside from China has seen flights restricted and it is not fair to include Taiwan as part of the China restrictions, Wu added.

    Johnson Chiang, the head of Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry’s Europe department, said they had told the Italian government on Friday their ban on Taiwan flights was not based on science.

    QUARANTINE

    SEOUL. – The US military command in South Korea said it has instituted a 14-day self quarantine effective Sunday for any troops who recently traveled to China, adding that an outbreak in that country of a new coronavirus could harm military readiness.

    United States Forces Korea said it knew of no troops who had been in the hardest hit provinces of China, where thousands of people have been infected, and that its quarantine measures were a precaution.

    In another statement on Saturday, USFK commander General Robert Abrams also said the military assesses the new virus as a low threat, but that it is closely monitoring the spread.

    On Sunday South Korea reported three more confirmed cases of the new virus, bringing the total in the country to 15. A further 87 people are being tested for possible infection.

    ‘WASH YOUR HANDS’

    TOKYO . – Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike called on residents on Sunday to wash their hands and wear surgical masks to prevent the spread of a new coronavirus which has infected thousands around the world as the city prepares to host the 2020 Olympics.

    “This is one of the things I’m very worried about,” said Koike on the sidelines of an opening ceremony for a 15,000-seat gymnasium in eastern Tokyo that will host volleyball and wheelchair basketball competitions this summer.

    Japan on Saturday stepped up its response to the epidemic, classifying the coronavirus as a “designated infectious disease,” allowing compulsory hospitalization and the use of public funds for treatment, among other measures.

    Koike said she was now working with local and national authorities on how to monitor the virus and to implement measures against its spread to protect the city’s residents.

    “I would like you to wash your hands and fingers properly, and wear masks to protect yourselves. There are many ways to do it, but I’d like you to start yourselves with such small steps to control it,” said Koike. – Reuters