China counts economic cost of virus as row deepens over travel ban

A woman wearing a face mask holds a child near a shopping mall in Beijing, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, February 1, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

The economic and diplomatic costs of China’s coronavirus epidemic mounted on Monday with investors knocking $400 billion off the value of stocks and the government accusing the United States of over-reacting to the outbreak and whipping up panic.

Relations with the United States have been strained over the past year, largely over trade.

The number of deaths in China from the newly identified virus, which emerged in Wuhan city in the central province of Hubei in December, had risen to 361 as of Sunday, up 57 from the previous day, the National Health Commission said.

China’s markets plunged at the open in their first session after an extended Lunar New Year break that began on Jan. 23, when the virus had claimed only 17 lives in Wuhan. Since then, the flu-like virus has been declared a global emergency and spread to about two dozen other countries and regions, with the first death outside of China reported on Sunday, that of a 44-year-old Chinese man who died in the Philippines after travelling from Wuhan.

Wuhan and some other cities remain in virtual lockdown with travel severely restricted, and China is facing increasing international isolation as well due to restrictions on flights to and from the country and bans on travellers from China.

The government pointed a finger of blame at the United States saying it had acted to create and spread fear instead of offering any significant assistance.

The United States was the first country to suggest the partial withdrawal of its embassy staff, and the first to impose a travel ban on Chinese travellers said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.