WHO chief says widespread travel bans not needed to beat China virus

Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday there was no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade” in trying to halt the spread of a coronavirus that has killed 361 people in China.

FILE PHOTO: Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

“We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent,” Tedros told the WHO executive board, reiterating his message from last week when he declared an international emergency.

China is facing increasing international isolation due to restrictions on flights to and from the country, and bans on travellers from China.

There have been 17,238 confirmed infections in China including 361 deaths, as well as 151 confirmed cases in 23 countries and 1 death which was reported from the Philippines on Sunday, Tendros added.

“Because of this strategy and it weren’t for China, the number of cases outside China would have been very much higher,” he said.

Referring to the virus’ spread abroad, he said it was “minimal and slow”, while warning that it could worsen.

Tedros, who held talks in Beijing a week ago with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders, coughed and interrupted his speech to take a drink of water, quipping: “Don’t worry, it’s not corona”.

China’s delegate took the floor at the WHO Executive Board and denounced measures by “some countries” that have denied entry to people holding passports issued in Hubei province – at the center of the outbreak – and to deny visas and cancel flights.

“All these measures are seriously against recommendation by the WHO,” said Li Song, who is China’s ambassador for disarmament at the United Nations in Geneva.

China’s regular Executive Board representative was unable to attend after her flight from Beijing was canceled, Chinese diplomats told reporters on Friday.

U.S. ambassador Andrew Bremberg said that the outbreak in two dozen countries required focused attention.

“We express our support, prayers, sympathy, and appreciation to the people of China and especially the health responders on the front lines, who are protecting not only their communities, but the world,” Bremberg said.

“We are learning more about the virus every day and implementing appropriate public health measures, in keeping with WHO’s recommendations, to minimize the spread based on the best evidence available. The United States is committed to working with all partners to address this outbreak,” he added.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Toby Chopra

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