China tries to reassure on outbreak amid growing travel curbs

FILE PHOTO: Hua Chunying, spokeswoman of China's Foreign Ministry, speaks at a regular news conference in Beijing, China, January 6, 2016. China's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that Beijing did not have advance knowledge of North Korea's test of a miniaturized hydrogen nuclear device, adding that it firmly opposes Pyongyang's action. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing is stepping up diplomatic efforts to reassure countries around the world it can control the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 420 people so far, seeking to prevent more travel bans placed against travelers from China.

Chinese state councillor Wang Yi spoke with foreign ministers of seven countries including Germany, Malaysia Sudan and Saudi Arabia in recent days, statements released by the Chinese foreign ministry on Sunday and Tuesday show. Wang reiterated in the calls that China was confident of being able to control the outbreak and in some cases spoke out against any travel curbs.

“The WHO (World Health Organization) explicitly recommended that countries should not take unnecessary travel and trade restrictions,” Wang was quoted as telling Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in a statement released by China on Tuesday.

“I believe Saudi Arabia will always stand with us in the fight against the epidemic. The epidemic is only temporary, and our cooperation and friendship are long-lasting,” Wang was quoted as saying.

China is facing mounting isolation as a growing number of airlines suspend flights to its mainland cities and some nations, including the United States and Singapore, enact travel curbs against foreign travelers who recently visited the country. Beijing has spoken out against such measures, with anger directed in particular towards the United States.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying repeated criticisms against the United States in a statement issued on Tuesday, calling on Washington to “refrain from over-reacting” and cooperate with China in controlling the outbreak.

The death toll from the epidemic, which has infected more that double the number of people globally than the 2002/2003 SARS oubtreak that also originated in China, now stands at 427. All but one of these deaths have occurred on Chinese soil.

Reporting by Se Young Lee and Roxanne Liu; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Raju Gopalakrishnan