President Xi Jinping said China would defeat the “devil” coronavirus that has killed more than 100 people in the country, as Hong Kong moved to isolate itself from the spread of the disease by closing its high-speed rail link to the mainland.
“The epidemic is a devil. We cannot let the devil hide,” Mr Xi said in a meeting with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, in Beijing on Tuesday, according to state media.
Following comments from the mayor of Wuhan, the quarantined city at the centre of the outbreak, that details of the Sars-like virus were not disclosed as quickly as they could have been, Mr Xi said information would be shared “transparently, responsibly and in a timely way”. He added: “We have complete confidence and ability to win this defensive battle against the epidemic.”
Mr Ghebreyesus praised China’s government for its handling of the outbreak, according to state media, which reported the WHO chief as saying that the response showcased “China’s speed, China’s scale, and China’s efficiency . . . This is the advantage of China’s system, worthy for other countries to learn from.” The WHO was not available immediately for comment or to confirm the remarks.
The meeting came as Hong Kong stepped up its defence against an outbreak that has killed 106 people, with almost 4,500 confirmed cases in China. The number of infections is up sharply from the previous day as the respiratory illness spread over the lunar new year holiday.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong leader, said on Tuesday that rail services to the mainland would be suspended from Thursday and the number of flights would be halved, as she suspended permits for Chinese tourists visiting the territory.
Ms Lam, who at her media briefing wore a surgical face mask, has been under public pressure to close the border with the mainland after Hong Kong’s first six coronavirus cases came via the high-speed China rail link.
Researchers at University of Hong Kong forecast the virus would spread further. The university estimated that at least 25,630 people in Wuhan were showing symptoms of the disease and about 44,000 were infected but had yet to show symptoms.
Financial markets fell further on the expected economic fallout from the crisis after several Chinese cities extended the traditional lunar new year holiday by an extra week in an effort to prevent the disease from spreading.
Singapore’s FTSE Straits Times dropped 2.6 per cent, Seoul’s Kospi index was down 3.1 per cent and Tokyo’s Topix fell another 1 per cent after heavy losses on Monday.
Markets in China remain closed for the new year holiday, but analysts expect a sharp drop in Hong Kong when the city’s stock exchange reopens on Wednesday.
Japan has announced the first case of coronavirus transmission within its borders: a man in his sixties from Nara prefecture who drove a bus for two parties of tourists from Wuhan. It was one of two new cases announced in Japan on Tuesday, making six in total.
Germany on Tuesday identified its first case of the virus, as the health ministry in Munich said a man from the southern city of Starnberg had been infected.
Some foreign governments, fearful of a repeat of the Sars epidemic in 2003 that killed almost 800 people, are making urgent plans to repatriate their citizens.
The US has urged citizens to avoid travelling to China and is planning an evacuation of its nationals on Tuesday evening. The flight was set to leave from Wuhan at about 10pm local time, according to an email to passengers seen by the Financial Times.
“Relief is what I am feeling. This situation has been stretching my nerves,” said Priscilla Dickie, a 35-year-old from Vermont, as she waited to board the flight with her eight year old daughter. But several US citizens in Wuhan who spoke to the Financial Times said there were not enough seats for all those seeking evacuation.
US citizens who were not government employees were being charged $1,000 per seat to board the flight to San Francisco, according to the email. They must also organise their own transport to the airport, a difficult task as most private cars are barred from driving on the city’s roads.
Japan is to evacuate about 200 of its citizens from the city on Tuesday night, the country’s foreign minister said. The UK health secretary said London was “rapidly advancing measures to bring UK nationals back from Hubei province”, although no time for such an operation was given.
Additional reporting by Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong, Robin Harding in Tokyo and Guy Chazan in Berlin
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