Vientiane, Laos―China’s efforts to control the deadly outbreak of a new coronavirus “are working,” Beijing’s top diplomat said Thursday, attributing an easing in new cases to his country’s “forceful action” against the illness.
Speaking in Laos before talks with peers from the 10 Southeast Asian (ASEAN) countries, Wang Yi said the outbreak was “controllable and curable” despite the global panic it has seeded.
“China is not only protecting its own people but also the rest of the world,” he told the summit in Vientiane, referencing a recent sharp drop in new cases of the virus inside China, where it has killed more than 2,100 people.
Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin Jr. thanked China for its “unprecedented domestic measures and quick action”―apparently referring to the lockdowns of several large cities as the virus spread.
But he recognized the “massively detrimental” economic impact of the disease, which has constricted global trade and tourism vital to many Southeast Asian economies.READ: SE Asian tourism takes a hit as outbreak deepens
This developed as China on Thursday touted a big drop in new cases of the coronavirus as a sign it has contained the epidemic―but fears grew abroad after two former passengers of a quarantined cruise ship died in Japan and a cluster of infections increased in South Korea.
The death toll in China hit 2,118 as 114 more people died, but health officials reported the lowest number of new cases there in nearly a month, including in the hardest-hit province, Hubei.
More than 74,000 people have been infected by the new virus in China and hundreds more in over 25 countries, with Iran reporting two deaths on Wednesday, the first fatalities in the Middle East.
In Japan, a man and a woman in their 80s who had been aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess died from the COVID-19 illness, authorities said, as fears mount about other passengers who disembarked after testing negative.
READ: US citizens flee cruise ship; others may follow suit
A cluster of novel coronavirus infections centered on a cult church in the South Korean city of Daegu leaped to 39 cases, as the country’s total spiked for the second successive day.
Meanwhile, Moscow is to impose a blanket ban on Chinese visitors over coronavirus fears in a move that will hit its tourism industry as experts question the need for such “draconian” measures.
Moscow will ban all Chinese citizens from entering its territory from Thursday. It has already halted visa-free tourism for Chinese nationals and stopped issuing them with work visas and suspended rail links and restricted air travel.
The country is a top destination for Chinese tourists and the range of restrictions is expected to hit the domestic tourism industry hard.
“Of course, there will be colossal losses,” Irina Tyurina, spokeswoman for the Russian Union of the Tourism Industry, told AFP.
The Russian tourist industry will lose at least 2.8 billion rubles ($44 million) in February and March due to the travel restrictions, according to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia.
Some 1.5 million Chinese tourists visited Russia last year, according to the association.
In Washington, US scientists announced Wednesday they had created the first 3D atomic-scale map of the part of the novel coronavirus that attaches to and infects human cells, a critical step toward developing vaccines and treatments.
The team from the University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health first studied the genetic code of the virus made publicly available by Chinese researchers and used it to develop a stabilized sample of a key part called the spike protein.
They then imaged the spike protein using cutting-edge technology known as cryogenic electron microscopy, publishing their findings in the journal Science.
The hastily-convened summit with ASEAN neighbors comes as a region dependent on the flow of Chinese goods and tourists faces a steep bill following restrictions on movement from China.
A similar meeting was held in 2003 following the outbreak of SARS.
Originating in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the new coronavirus―known as COVID-19―has infected more than 74,000 people inside China.
The Chinese government has locked down tens of millions of people in several virus-hit cities, extended Lunar New Year holidays and pulled flights in a scramble to contain the virus.
Still the health scare has cascaded across Southeast Asia, with cases recorded in the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam have restricted flights from mainland China and suspended visa-free arrivals as health screening ramps up at entry points.
Thailand, which has imposed no such restrictions, reported a 90 percent slump in arrivals from the mainland this month, a gut punch to an already beleaguered tourist sector which makes up nearly a fifth of the economy.
Thailand anticipates a loss of more than $8 billion by year’s end from the tourist tail-off.
But China’s Wang said the drop-off would be “temporary.”
“The outbreak may have taken a toll on cooperation between China and ASEAN but such impacts can be overcome and made-up for ... the long-term trajectory will remain intact,” he said during a press conference after the meeting.
“Fear is more threatening than the virus, and confidence is more precious than gold,” he added.
China sees ASEAN as its backyard and has ramped up economic, diplomatic and cultural influence over recent years with billions of dollars of investment, tourist outflows and a bigger presence at regional summits.
There are fears prolonged disruption from the virus could slow work on the massive China-backed “Belt and Road” infrastructure schemes which criss-cross ASEAN.
But Wang laughed off concerns Thursday, telling AFP there “won’t be any negative impacts” on various projects dotting the region.
“In contrast, it will strengthen our collaboration and unity, and push forward the Belt and Road initiative together,” he told AFP.
READ: Nations take drastic steps to rim spreadREAD: Public warned: No cure for n-CoV; only hygiene
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