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Coronavirus

WHO chief urges against excessive China travel curbs

Beijing says restrictions not based on facts and go against UN body's policy

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at a meeting of the organization's executive board in Geneva on Feb. 3.   © AP

GENEVA -- Countries should refrain from excessive restrictions on travel to China, the World Health Organization director-general said Monday, as the U.S., Australia and other governments closed their borders to noncitizens arriving from the Asian nation amid the coronavirus outbreak.

There is no need for measures that "unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. The WHO will send a team of experts to China as early as this week to discuss steps to contain the outbreak. 

The WHO chief then went on to praise Beijing's containment efforts. "Thanks to their efforts, the number of cases in the rest of the world so far has remained relatively small," he said.

In declaring an international health emergency on Thursday, the WHO issued a similar advisory, saying "there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade."

But nations have not heeded the WHO's pleas, with Singapore halting the issuance of new visas to Chinese and Italy suspending flights to and from China. At Monday's executive board meeting, China's representative argued that such measures go against the WHO's recommendations and noted that what is necessary are facts and science, not fear and rumors.

There have been 17,238 confirmed infections in China including 361 deaths, as well as 151 confirmed cases in 23 other countries and one death. While calling for calm, the WHO will also hold discussions with Chinese authorities on ways to contain the outbreak.

The WHO's executive board is comprised of members from 34 countries, including the U.S., Brazil, China and Japan. The body meets twice a year. The current meeting will continue through Saturday.

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