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Growing restrictions and implications of coronavirus

China has called on the international community to respond to the novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV outbreak in a 'calm and rational manner'.

In a news conference on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying was particularly critical of the United States for its response to the outbreak, saying its actions – including imposing a travel ban on Chinese travellers – could create panic and set a “bad example” for others.

She also appealed for more protective medical equipment – goggles, masks and protective suits.

The death toll from the new coronavirus has now exceeded that of the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 in mainland China. However, the overall mortality rate is still thought to be low.

As the outbreak continues, other Asian countries have put in border restrictions of varying degrees.

English language coverage by official Chinese media highlights efforts by China to contain the outbreak by ‘mobilising' the entire nation. This includes the rapid construction of a new hospital, the disinfecting of trains and buses, and farmers in different provinces working through the night to get fresh food to Wuhan.

In New Zealand, China’s consul general in Auckland, Ruan Ping, told RNZ he was disappointed with the Government’s move to place temporary entry restrictions on foreign nationals travelling from or through China.

Christchurch-based researcher Dr Shao Wei has been monitoring both Chinese and English language media in New Zealand and says the tone and theme of the coverage has been changing very quickly – with social media driving the speed.

“Compared to a virtual news blackout during the SARS crisis 17 years ago, WeChat has become the dominant information provider. The features of WeChat – super fast info dissemination, hyper-connectivity and heightened state surveillance – have shaped how virus-related info is shared among Chinese New Zealanders during the outbreak, and their response to it.”

Another Chinese media watcher says coverage this week in major Chinese language outlets Skykiwi and the Chinese Herald has focused on the practical implications of the border restrictions, aiming to answer questions from international students and those with family members who were planning to visit or return to New Zealand.

“Students and workers who are now in China are left in limbo and don’t know what to do. It is also a time when many go back to China or have families come to visit or travel to New Zealand.

“The reaction to the travel restriction is, however, divided depending on how long you have been in New Zealand and whether you have family and friends in China who need to come. Generally, the Chinese community believes it is understandable, given New Zealand is vulnerable if there is an outbreak.”

Reports about racism and xenophobia against people of Asian heritage have been increasing both in New Zealand and internationally as the number of coronavirus cases climbs.

In a widely commented-on LinkedIn post, Auckland’s Junior Lim wrote about being questioned by a fellow passenger on a domestic flight whether he had just come back from China, and also hearing remarks at the airport from people telling their children not to stand too close to Chinese people.

“It is upsetting how the coronavirus outbreak is being used to legitimise racism,” Lim wrote, “I went on two domestic flights this weekend and even though I have lived in New Zealand for over 28 years, I was made to feel like I no longer belong.”

Several Asian countries have put in place border restrictions of varying degree. They include Japan, Nepal, Singapore and South Korea – and North Korea, one of the first countries to shut its borders to visitors from China. Indonesia is due to temporarily stop flights to and from China this week, and is looking at restrictions on food imports.

In the Philippines, which reported the first coronavirus death outside of China and widened its own travel restrictions over the weekend, President Rodrigo Duterte urged citizens not to blame Chinese people and to “stop this xenophobia thing”.

Hong Kong increased its border controls on Mondau, closing all but two land crossings with the Chinese mainland. Hong Kong hospital workers have staged strikes asking for the government to bar all entries from mainland China.

Taiwan, meanwhile, lacks membership of the World Health Organisation and is unable to get epidemic information first-hand. Like other UN-affiliated agencies, the WHO is treating it as part of China. Taiwan's foreign minister has criticised the WHO for leaving the island vulnerable to flight suspensions.

The virus is also taking an economic toll. China's Shanghai Composite Index fell about 8 percent yesterday when markets opened after the Lunar New Year break. Global oil prices have also fallen due to reduced demand.

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