World scrambles to contain spreading virus from China
HONG KONG — New walls are rising between China and the world as the country grapples with a fast-moving coronavirus and its mounting death toll.
Vietnam on Saturday became the latest country to try to close itself off from the world’s most populous country, barring all flights from and to China. Overall, nearly 10,000 flights have been canceled since the outbreak.
Australia joined the United States in temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who have recently traveled to the country. Japan also said it would bar foreigners who had recently been in the Chinese province at the center of the outbreak, or whose passports were issued there.
At least 24 countries have reported cases since China informed the World Health Organization about the virus in late December. On Saturday, the Philippines reported the first virus death outside of China, a 44-year-old man from Wuhan.
As the death toll increases and more countries cut off China, the economic and political crisis caused by the virus is intensifying there, with authorities coming under scrutiny for their slow initial response.
Major businesses have started to acknowledge the effect the virus is having on their bottom lines.
Earlier, Apple had said it was rerouting part of its supply chain but would shut only one store.
By Saturday, it said it would close all 42 of its stores in mainland China, its third-biggest market and where it generates about one-sixth of its sales, until Feb. 9.
It was the latest move by some of the world’s biggest companies to shift supply chains and adjust operations in China.
Chinese officials have been changing course after their initially slow response to the virus. A government expert admitted he had been wrong to say the virus was under control in early January. And the mayor of a town near Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, was fired for negligence after the disabled teenage son of a quarantined patient died.
The cause of death was still under investigation.
But Chinese authorities also appeared to be taking tougher measures to stifle criticism, for example scrubbing the internet of an article critical of the government in The Global Times, a tabloid controlled by the governing Communist Party.
As the number of deaths and new cases rapidly rose — 304 deaths and 14,380 cases by Sunday — international organizations and foreign countries reacted.
The State Department issued a travel alert urging Americans not to go to China because of the public health threat. Delta, United and American Airlines suspended all flights between the U.S. and mainland China.
By the time the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency Thursday, some of the world’s biggest companies had barred their employees from any travel to China, and countries began to close their borders.
China’s Foreign Ministry, for its part, has blasted the U.S. government for restricting the entry of Chinese nationals due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“While the WHO has only just specifically advised against any travel restrictions, the U.S. has decided to act in the opposite way. This has set a bad example,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Even as some countries took drastic measures, their leaders also acknowledged the economic impact.
“It’s going to hurt us,” warned Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister of Singapore, after announcing that the small island state would bar all Chinese visitors and foreigners who had traveled to China within the past 14 days.
Restaurants, travel operators and hotels in Singapore
were all “bound to be significantly affected,” Lee said.
On Saturday, Australia joined the U.S. and a growing list of other countries and cities that have issued travel warnings in an attempt to stem the flow of people who could be carrying the virus. The U.S. government said Friday that it would temporarily deny entry to noncitizens who had recently traveled to China.
The Australian government also urged its citizens to “reconsider their need to travel” to China.
Qantas, Australia’s biggest airline, canceled its mainland flights, though it said it would still fly to Hong Kong.
Taiwan said it would bar Chinese nationals from the southern coastal province of Guangdong from entry beginning Sunday and travelers who recently visited the area would be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Vietnam, China’s neighbor along its southern border, joined Singapore and Mongolia in essentially shutting off its borders to China.
Passengers grab their luggage as they disembark a Turkish plane Saturday in Ankara after being repatriated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, which is the center of the outbreak.