Travel restrictions an overreaction

The overreaction to coronavirus is doing China no favours, writes Chinese Consul General Wang Zhijian. 

The decision of the New Zealand Government to place temporary restrictions to refuse entry of any foreign travellers who leave or transit through mainland China after February 2 2020 as a measure to prevent 2019-nCoV has aroused concerns.

While it is understandable for countries to take necessary and proportionate measures against the outbreak, these measures should be based on scientific evidence or recommendations from World Health Organisation (WHO).

The decision to close borders, unwarranted by current situation, is disrupting normal personnel exchanges and practical co-operation in various areas, and in some sense is unnecessarily causing negative impacts.

It came at the worst time, coinciding with the peak tourism season and the start of new semester. Chinese visitors and students are not the only ones adversely affected by the entry ban.

It is estimated that halting Chinese tourists for two weeks will leave a nearly $100million hole in tourism earnings for New Zealand, resulting in job losses. The credibility of New Zealand’s education institutions is being harmed.

In addition to economic exchanges, the repercussions are hampering the friendly ties between our peoples and may undermine mutual trust in the long run. We are also concerned about recent cases of xenophobia and racism which might be further inflamed by such an excessive measure, spreading the more dangerous ‘‘virus of hatred’’ which was the main cause of the tragic Christchurch shooting incident a year ago.

The WHO has made it clear that no travel or trade restrictions against China are recommended at this stage.

It has reiterated its call to all countries not to impose restrictions inconsistent with International Health Regulations.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom said such restrictions could have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit. He urged relevant parties to take actions commensurate with public health risks only and make adjustment accordingly.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier also echoed that proper surveillance to check the health of incoming travellers would be more appropriate.

In fact, there shall be no reason to panic or overreact if an objective and accurate analysis of the current situation is made. The momentum of spreading has been effectively curbed both within and outside China with unprecedented domestic control. 99% of the 2019-nCoV cases are contained in China, and 97% of deaths are in Hubei Province.

In terms of case-fatality, the rate of 2019-nCoV is 2% and comparatively much lower than that of other epidemics such as Ebola (40%), Mers (35%), H1N1(17.4%) and Sars (10%).

It is also important to avoid double standards. The current flu season in the US has already caused infections of 19million people and 10,000 deaths without triggering adequate prevention measures from the US Government.

During the 2009 H1N1 outbreak which also emerged in the US, no country has closed its borders to American travellers though it was defined as an international emergency and global pandemic. I still recall it took six months for the US Government to declare a national emergency then. Ironically, the US took the lead in overreacting to the coronavirus so aggressively this time.

China is mobilising resources nationwide to contain the outbreak, and we are fighting with the international community on our side. The UN Secretary-general and WHO Director-general have applauded China’s forceful measures and expressed confidence in the ability of the Chinese government to prevail over the epidemic.

Leaders of many countries have expressed their support and sympathies for China. I have again been moved by the encouraging words from local friends in all circles demonstrating solidarity with Chinese people at this difficult moment.

The epidemic is only temporary while friendship and co-operation will stay in the long run. We can only defeat this outbreak with global solidarity. China is committed to working with all other countries including New Zealand to tide over the difficulties, prevail over the outbreak, and ensure the health and safety of each and every member of our community with a shared future for mankind.


 

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