China slams 'truly mean' US travel warning

China slams 'truly mean' US travel warning

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 215 people and been declared a global emergency.

Russia, Britain, Sweden and Italy all reported their first cases, with 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 US 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 Organisation (WHO) had commended its containment efforts and not recommended travel or trade curbs.

"The World Health Organisation 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."

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 travellers 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.

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.

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.

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 9,900, 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.

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, British Airways, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic. Others have cut flights.