U.S. President Donald Trump offered China “any help that is necessary” on Monday to control a coronavirus outbreak in the central city of Wuhan that has killed 81 people and left tens of millions stranded during the biggest holiday of the year.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will “inspect and direct” efforts to control the outbreak and promised reinforcements, state media said, as provincial authorities faced accusations from the public of a failure to respond in time.
World shares slipped to their lowest in two weeks as worries grew about the economic impact of the virus after China, the world’s second-biggest economy, ramped up travel bans and extended the Lunar New Year holidays.
“We are in very close communication with China concerning the virus,” Trump, who waged a bruising 18 month trade war with Beijing, said in a tweet.
“Very few cases reported in USA, but strongly on watch. We have offered China and President Xi (Jinping) any help that is necessary. Our experts are extraordinary!”
Health authorities in the capital, Beijing, reported the first coronavirus death on Monday of a 50-year-old person who had been to Wuhan, state media said.
It was not immediately clear if the death was included in the total. All the deaths were in China.
Li, clad in a blue protective suit and mask, thanked medical workers in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province and the epicentre of the outbreak.
“Li … thanked frontline medical workers for their all-out efforts in treating patients and urged them to pay attention to their own protection,” Xinhua news agency said.
“He required efforts to guarantee medical resources supply, race against time to treat patients and ensure adequate market supply and stable prices.”
He said 2 500 more medical workers would arrive in the next two days.
Li is the most senior leader to visit Wuhan since the outbreak began. He inspected efforts to contain the epidemic and was shown on state television leading medical workers in chants of “Wuhan jiayou!” – an exhortation to keep their strength up.
He also visited the construction site of a new hospital due to be built in days.
On China’s heavily censored social media, where dissent is typically suppressed, local officials have borne the brunt of mounting public anger about the handling of the virus.
Some lashed out at the Hubei governor, who had to correct himself twice during a news conference over the number of face masks being produced in the province.
“If he can mess up the data multiple times, no wonder the disease has spread so severely,” one Weibo user said.
Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV the city’s management of the crisis was “not good enough” – rare public self-criticism for a Chinese official – and said he was willing to resign.
The city of 11 million people is in a virtual lockdown and much of Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, is under some kind of travel curb.
People from Hubei have come under scrutiny within mainland China as well, with many facing suspicion from officials about their recent travels.
“Hubei people are getting discriminated against,” a Wuhan resident complained on the Weibo social media platform.
A small number of cases linked to people who travelled from Wuhan have been confirmed in more than 10 countries, including Thailand, France, Japan, and the United States.
Investors are worried about the impact on travel, tourism, and broader economic activity. The consensus is that in the short term, economic output will be hit as Chinese authorities impose travel restrictions and extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, when millions traditionally travel by rail, road, and plane, by three days to limit the spread of the virus.
Asian and European shares tumbled, with Japan’s Nikkei average sliding 2%, its biggest one-day fall in five months. Demand spiked for safe-haven assets such as the Japanese yen and Treasury notes. European stocks fell more than 2%.
During the 2002-2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally, air passenger demand in Asia plunged 45%. The travel industry is more reliant on Chinese travellers now than it was then.
The total number of confirmed cases in China rose to 2,835, with about half in the central province of Hubei. But some experts suspect the number of infected people is much higher. Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, which has had eight confirmed cases, banned entry to people who had visited Hubei in the past 14 days.
The number of deaths from the virus in Hubei climbed to 76 from 56, officials said, with five deaths elsewhere in China.
The newly identified coronavirus is believed to have originated late last year in a Wuhan market illegally selling wildlife. Much is not known, including how easily it spreads and just how deadly it is.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had arrived in China and would meet officials working on the response, his agency said.
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