Countries close borders in efforts to minimise coronavirus exposure

Several countries have closed their borders to travellers from China in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The US, Australia and Singapore announced that they are denying all foreign visitors who have recently been to China, while New Zealand and Israel have closed to foreigners travelling from mainland China.

The steps come after the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) decision on 30 January to declare a global health emergency over the new virus, although the organisation has not recommended tough travel restrictions as part of the solution to the spread of the disease but instead suggests screening at border crossings, with WHO head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying: “Travel restrictions can cause more harm than good by hindering information sharing, medical supply chains, and harming economies.”

There have been more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus in China, with experts warning that it is possible that 75,000 people may have been infected in the area of the city of Wuhan where the virus is believed to have originated. The death toll currently stands at 362, with 489 who contracted the disease known to have recovered. The number of victims so far is now higher than that from the Sars epidemic which killed 349 people.

China has asked for assistance with protective equipment as its factories struggle to keep up with demand for masks, suits and goggles. The Chinese foreign ministry says that its facilities are able to produce around 20 million masks a day but that the coronavirus outbreak has prompted people to stock up on them at home while medical personnel have experienced equipment shortages. Several provinces and cities across the country have made it compulsory to wear masks in public.

Meanwhile, fears over the continuing effect of the coronavirus led to a significant fall in the Chinese stock market, with the Shanghai Composite Index closing nearly 8% down when it re-opened after the Lunar New Year holiday. The People’s Bank of China unexpectedly reduced short-term interest rates as part of a package of financial measures to ease pressure on the economy brought on by the health crisis.

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