‘The opportunity to contain Coronavirus is closing’

Asia and Oceania Coronavirus Watch

By the Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe

By the end of Friday, there had been 76,288 confirmed cases.

5,365 were still suspected of being infected with the virus, and there were 2,345 deaths.

A total of 20,659 people had been discharged from hospital after recovery.

Friday saw 397 new confirmed cases and 109 deaths: 106 were in Hubei Province and one in Hebei Province, Shanghai and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, respectively.

There were also 1,361 new suspected cases and 2,393 people were discharged from hospital after recovery. 

618,915 close contacts had been traced, among which, 26,441 were discharged from medical observation Friday, with 113,564 others still under medical observation.

By the end of Friday, 68 confirmed cases, including one death, had been reported in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), 10 confirmed cases in the Macao SAR, and 26 in Taiwan.

According to the World Health Organisation’s situation report on February 21, in the previous 24 hours, no new country reported cases of COVID-19. Globally, there had been 76,769 confirmed (1 021 new) cases, including 1 200 confirmed (127 new) cases in 26 countries and eight deaths outside China.

The Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee on Friday held a meeting on the prevention and control of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the coordination between the epidemic control and economic and social development.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, chaired the meeting.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has written back to Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, after receiving a letter from the US business leader on the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

In his letter dated February 20, the Chinese president wrote: “I deeply appreciate the act of generosity of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and your letter of solidarity to the Chinese people at such an important moment.”

Gates said in his letter on February 6 that his foundation has committed up to US$100 million in emergency funding, much of which will help China bolster epidemiological research, emergency intervention, and the research and development of drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics.

“Since the outbreak began, I have called for confidence, unity, science-based approach and targeted response as guidelines for China’s epidemic control efforts,” Xi wrote in the letter.

“We have rallied the whole nation and adopted a string of unprecedented measures to contain and mitigate the epidemic and treat the sick,” Xi wrote, adding that these extraordinary measures are delivering substantial results.

“We are resolute in protecting the life and health of the people of China, and of all countries around the world. We are determined to do our part to uphold global public health security,” Xi added.

Noting that mankind is a community with a shared future, Xi wrote that to prevail over a disease that threatens all, unity and cooperation is the most powerful weapon.

“The Foundation has been quick in joining the global action and has played an active role in the global response against the outbreak,” Xi noted.

“I support your cooperation with relevant Chinese institutions, and look forward to enhanced coordination and concerted efforts in the international community for the sake of health and well-being of all,” Xi added.  

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Friday called for multiple measures to increase the production and supply of medical and epidemic-control materials.

Li made the remarks while inspecting the production of medical supplies in Haidian District in Beijing.

He urged more efforts should be made to support epidemic prevention and control, and to ensure the orderly resumption of work and production.

Li was briefed on the country’s production and supply of key medical materials, including protective suits and masks. The daily production capacity of masks nationwide may exceed 100 million as additional production lines will become operational in the near future.

The premier urged related departments to offer coordinated services to encourage further expansion of production capacity and secure the supply of key epidemic-control materials.

While visiting a biotech firm, Li said masks are now not only “weapons” for medical workers and “shields” for the public, but also a guarantee for the orderly resumption of work and production.

Enterprises producing masks should race against time and work hard to expand production capacity while ensuring the quality of their products, he said.

On February 20, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met the press with Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith in Vientiane after the Fifth Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Wang said that this meeting, held at a particular moment in the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), is a living testimony to LMC’s fine tradition of mutual assistance and kinship and the solidarity among riparian countries in times of adversity. When brothers share the same conviction, they can easily break a strong piece of metal. China is fully confident that through joint efforts, the outbreak will be defeated and the health and safety of peoples along the river will be protected.

The World Health Organisation announced on Friday that the Who-led team of international experts currently in China to investigate the novel coronavirus outbreak will travel to China’s central city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, on Saturday.

At a daily briefing, Who Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Who-led joint mission in China has been working in Beijing, Sichuan and Guangdong, and will travel to Wuhan on Saturday to continue its work at the epicenter of the outbreak.

He added that Who is also working with partners to safeguard the health of the members of the team, and to take appropriate measures when they return to their countries of origin.

Who said Friday that the window of opportunity to contain wider worldwide spread of the COVID-19 epidemic is narrowing, urging the international community to act quickly before it completely closes.

“The window of opportunity (to contain the outbreak) may be closing,” said Who Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a daily briefing.

Though the number of cases outside China has remained relatively small, it’s “very worrisome” that some of the cases did not have clear epidemiological link, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case, he added.

Besides the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, South Korea now has the most confirmed cases outside China.

“We are working closely with the government to fully understand the transmission dynamics that led to this increase,” Tedros said.

South Korea confirmed 142 more cases of the COVID-19 on Saturday, raising the total number of infections to 346. The Who chief also mentioned that Iran has reported 18 cases during the past two days and four deaths, which is “very concerning”, given the fact that there is also a case now in Lebanon who is linked to Iran.

Those “dots or trends” are actually very concerning, he said.

However, Tedros believed that “the window of opportunity is still there”.

He called on the international community, including the financing, to act quickly to control the epidemic before the window closes completely.

Since the outbreak, China has taken unprecedented measures to contain the spread of the virus within China, which provides a window of opportunity for the world to prevent a global epidemic.

Tedros urged other countries to also be very serious in their actions.

“But at the same time, we have to prepare for any eventualities, because this outbreak could go in any direction, and even become messy,” he warned.

“If we do well within the narrowing window of opportunity, we can avert any serious crisis. If we squander the opportunity, then there will be a serious problem in our hands,” he noted.

The following is Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang’s Daily Briefing Online (February 21, 2020):

Q: State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attended the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) yesterday. Could you share with us more details? Does this conference have any special significance for regional countries’ joint response to COVID-19?

A: Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak, China and ASEAN decided to hold this special foreign ministers’ meeting. It is of special significance as the first multilateral foreign ministers’ meeting focusing on public health security in regional countries. This successful meeting achieved positive outcomes and published the Statement of the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). In parallel to the meeting, clinical specialists from China and ASEAN countries held a video conference, holding fruitful exchanges on therapeutic plans and treatment experiences.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and ASEAN foreign ministers reached important consensus on jointly fighting the COVID-19 outbreak, pledging to pull together to overcome the current difficulties. State Councilor Wang talked about the forceful and effective measures China has taken to fight the epidemic and proposed the following four points: first, strengthen coordination for joint disease prevention and control; second, take a long-term perspective and establish long-acting cooperation mechanism; third, rationally deal with this epidemic and conquer panic; fourth, turn the crisis into opportunity and foster new cooperation growth points. These proposals have won high acclaim from ASEAN foreign ministers attending the meeting. 

ASEAN countries expressed appreciation for the strong measures China has taken in an open, transparent and responsible manner; recognition for its contribution to regional and global public health security; and confidence in its early victory over the epidemic. They all stated that ASEAN and China should enhance solidarity and cooperation, do their utmost to mitigate the outbreak’s impact on exchanges and cooperation, share experience, and jointly strengthen regional public health security capabilities.

There is something special about this heart-warming and inspiring meeting. Before it started, ASEAN foreign ministers joined hands on stage, sending the message “stay strong” to Wuhan, China and ASEAN. This is another vivid example of the fine tradition of mutual assistance between ASEAN and China. It is also an epitome of regional and international support for China’s fight against the virus. We firmly believe that China-ASEAN relations will be elevated to a new high in the joint fight against the epidemic, and the building of a China-ASEAN community with a shared future will make solid progress after the test of the epidemic.

Q: The Japanese government delivered another batch of medical assistance to Wuhan on the fifth chartered plane to pick up its nationals. Many Chinese netizens thanked Japan and asked it to take good care of its people and leave enough supplies at home to prevent the spread of the virus. The Chinese embassy in Japan recently announced China’s donation of coronavirus nucleic acid test kits to Japan National Institute of Infectious Diseases. How do you see such interaction between China and Japan?

A: Like I said the other day, virus knows no borders, but the worst of times reveals the best in people. Faced with the outbreak, it is only natural for China and Japan, as friendly neighbors, to deal with it hand in hand.

After the epidemic struck, the Japanese government and people provided valuable support and assistance to China at the earliest time possible. We will remember and hold dear such friendship. The Chinese people are also following the spread of the virus in Japan with care and concern. We completely relate to what they are going through.

To quote a line from the Book of Songs, “You throw a peach to me, I give you a white jade for friendship”. Though we are still facing a severe situation at home with rather tight medical supplies, we will further share information and experience with Japan and offer as much support and assistance as possible based on its need.

When lending each other a helping hand, we gain friendship and mutual trust. This is the very epitome of how China and the whole international community have been dealing with global challenges altogether. China will remain in close communication, coordination and cooperation with Japan to jointly protect the lives and health of the two peoples and make positive contributions to upholding regional and global public health security.

Q: The Iranian health ministry confirmed five COVID-19 cases in Iran, of which two have been fatal. I wonder if you could comment on that?

A: China closely follows the COVID-19 situation in Iran and expresses condolences over the passing of the two patients.

In this fight against the virus, China and Iran have been standing firmly together. The Iranian government and people provided China with valuable support and help, and Foreign Minister Zarif was the first foreign minister who publicly voiced support for China. 

China will maintain close communication, coordination and cooperation with Iran to defeat the epidemic as soon as possible and safeguard the health of our two peoples and global public health security.

Q: Why is China delaying giving permission to the Indian flight coming in with medical supplies and then to evacuate Indians from Hubei?

A: China has been assisting India in flying home its citizens. By far, more than 400 Indian nationals in Hubei have returned to New Delhi. The competent departments on the two sides are still in communication regarding arrangements for the remaining 80 Indian nationals to be brought back. There is no such thing as China delaying granting flight permission.

The Chinese government attaches high importance to health of foreign nationals in China. We have offered them all necessary help and will continue to do so.

At present, China’s prevention efforts have been proven to be effective. We hope that relevant countries will respect the Who’s recommendations and avoid overreacting. China will continue to work with the international community to fight against the epidemic and promote the global cause of public health.