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Transcript of the Media Briefing By H.E. Ambassador Lin Songtian of China to South Africa on the Novel Coronavirus

(From Chinese Embassy in South Africa)

2020/02/08

3 February. 2020

Statement of Ambassador Lin Songtian:

The outbreak of the epidemic of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan of Hubei province, China has attracted worldwide high attention. It is now a global battle between humanity and nature that required the concerted efforts of the international community to win it over.

We fully understand the public of South Africa and Africa is very concerned about the new coronavirus breaking out in China and spreading at an alarming rate to other countries. I would like to take this opportunity to update the SA public on the latest situation of the epidemic and how China has responded to fight against the virus.

First, let me brief you on the latest situation of the epidemic, and the major measures that China has taken to deal with it, and then I would like to take your questions.

Indeed, this is a serious epidemic caused by a deadly virus, which poses a threat to the life and health of humankind globally. The novel coronavirus does not only remain in Wuhan and China, but has been spreading to some neighboring and developed countries.

As of midnight of Feb 2, a total of 17205 confirmed cases, 21558 suspected cases and 361 deaths have been reported, including 15 confirmed cases in Hong Kong, 8 in Macao, and 10 in Taiwan, China. Fortunately, up to now, 475 patients have been cured and discharged from hospital.

Globally, there are 146 confirmed cases, including 20 in Japan, 19 in Thailand, 18 in Singapore, 15 in the ROK, 12 in Australia, 8 each in Malaysia, United States and Germany, 7 in Vietnam, 6 in France, 5 in UAE, 4 in Canada, 2 each in Italy, the UK, Russia, the Philippines and India, 1 each in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Finland, Spain and Sweden. No confirmed case has ever been reported in Africa to date.

What is more challenging for us is that the source of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan has not been discovered, the nature of the new virus is unknown, and the risks of mutation are still unclear. But the virus' ability to spread is growing.

Hopefully, China has organized the most capable experts nationwide to develop the vaccines against the virus. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has separated the virus and is currently identifying a seed strain. Chinese scientists are racing against time to develop vaccines against the virus. The detection devices and reagents have been developed in China and applied nationwide. An early application of the vaccine is expected to be soon available in China and the rest of the world.

This is an unexpected contagious virus which has never infected mankind before. Since the outbreak in Wuhan, President Xi Jinping, the CPC and the Chinese government, while putting the safety of people's lives and health first, have made the prevention and control of new coronavirus as the top priority and primary task of the CPC and the government. The CPC Central Committee has set up a leading group at once and called on party officials at all levels to fight in the front against the epidemic and exhaust every effort to win the battle against the virus. The Chinese government has been making all-out nationwide efforts to control and prevent the virus.

First, a national joint prevention and control system and program has been swiftly put in place and has been working very effectively. President Xi Jinping has been commanding the battles himself, overseeing and guiding the national prevention and control efforts. Entrusted by President Xi, Premier Li Keqiang toured to Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, to encourage and guide local prevention and control efforts on the ground. Vice Premier Sun Chunlan stayed in Wuhan to command and coordinate the deployment of prevention and treatment.

A national joint prevention and control mechanism led by the National Health Commission and composed of 32 governmental departments was put in place immediately after the outbreak to strengthen coordination and move quickly to deal with the epidemic.

Second, massive and effective efforts at all levels of Chinese government and society have been made to prevent and control the spread of the epidemic. In order to stop and cut off the transmission of the spreading source of the virus, Wuhan City has suspended the operation of all public transportation and public activities starting from January 23, temporarily closing the departure channels of airports and train stations, and requiring local citizens not to leave Wuhan without special reasons.

The national quarantine campaign has been launched. Now all provinces, cities, communities and villages in China have kicked off the highest-level contingency response systems and program for public health emergencies to prevent the spread of the virus. Some villages and communities even locked themselves down. The Chinese people were given more holidays and all peoples in China including the foreigners are requested to stay at home, hotels or universities during the epidemic period to avoid public infection. Nationwide, public facilities such as cinemas, museums, parks, and scenic sights have been closed down.

The temperature screening at all airports and ports have been carried out strictly to prevent the spread of the epidemic out of China. The Chinese travel agencies have been instructed to suspend group tours both domestically and internationally to reduce passenger flow.

This is the best and effective measures China has taken and the best but heavy price China has to pay to fight against such an unknown virus to protect the peoples of China and the world. And this is the actions not words that China has taken to respect and protect the human rights and win the applause and supports from the kind people and countries and international organizations such as the WHO.

Third, medical staff and resources have been mobilized and deployed to Wuhan to offer all needed support. The local government and medical staff in Hubei province have been working hard to combat the spread of the epidemic and to treat the diagnosed patients. Two new specialized hospitals with over 2600 beds for the coronavirus treatment are now being constructed in Wuhan and one of them was completed and put into operation today, the other one will be completed in a few days.

The Central and local government have made emergency allocation of about US$ 10 billion worth of reserve medical supplies such as protective suits, goggles, masks and medicine to Wuhan and Hubei Province and the whole country. Now most factories nationwide have resumed production of the medical supplies to relieve the shortage. And the green channels for the nationwide logistic support have been effectively operating.

I am very proud of my country and people. China is not fighting alone. Wuhan is not fighting alone. Whenever China faces any serious epidemic, natural disaster or challenge, the Chinese people both at home and abroad always get united and fight in one. These days, thousands of civil and military medical staff including doctors, nurses and medical workers from around the country rushed to Wuhan to join the locals to step up treatment efforts. We are fighting day and night. More medical personnel nationwide are on standby to assist anytime. More than 100 local hotels in Wuhan open their doors free of charge for the medical personnel, visitors and foreigners. People from the world including the people in China and overseas Chinese communities and foreign friends such as South African government and SA U-Mask manufacturer Universal Safety Products (UPS) have been extending their helpful hands timely by donating kind and cash including the fresh vegetables to Wuhan. What they donated to Wuhan and China is not only the kind and cash, but the solidarity, strength and confidence.

Fourth, acting with openness, transparency and a high degree of responsibility for global health security, the Chinese government timely released the latest epidemic situation and progress in prevention and control and updated every day.

The Chinese government has been updating the latest epidemic situation to the public both in China and the world. And the nationwide public education through all the media have been going on to tell people how to prevent and control the spread of the virus and infectious disease.

We have identified the full genetic sequence of the new coronavirus at the shortest time and shared timely with the World Health Organization (WHO), and set up a special team with top experts to carry out joint research. China has notified and shared the epidemic information with the WHO and relevant countries, as well as China's Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan regions, timely verifies and releases the information of suspected and confirmed cases.

China has accumulated practical experience of public health incidents by coping with SARS, H1N1 influenza, bird flu, and Ebola outbreak in Africa.

We are fully confident that under the strong leadership of the CPC with comrade Xi Jinping at its core, and with the extensive understanding and support of the Chinese people and the international community, the systems, resources and capacity of China will become more and more strong to win the battle against the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the coming weeks.

Now, I would like to take your questions.

Q: It seems the epicenter of the outbreak Wuhan is under great pressure to deal with epidemic. There have also been reports of shortage of medical supplies in Wuhan, which seriously affected the prevention and control efforts there. Is this issue being properly addressed now?

A: We did run into a temporary shortage of medical supplies such as protective suits, goggles, masks, gloves and medicines in the past few weeks. It is quite understandable because of several reasons. First, the epidemic is so unexpected and this novel coronavirus is the first time to infect mankind and poses a serious threat to public health. So, we need time to recognize the virus, separate the virus, sequence the genome and develop the vaccines and medicines to deal with it. The demand for those medical items is huge and growing. Second, because of the week-long Spring Festival and the extended holidays, almost all factories in China were closed and there was no more production during the holiday. Third, the logistic support is the big challenge. There is also imbalance of supplies among different regions. It takes time to transport the supplies from one region to the most needed places.

Fortunately, China is the second largest economy and largest manufacturer in the world. We have a centralized and effective national mobilization system and enough resources and capacity to handle the issue well.

First, as I said before, the Central Government and local governments have allocated around US$ 10 billion worth of central reserve medical supplies to support Wuhan and Hubei Province and the country.

Second, lots of factories especially the medical supplies manufactured in the country have resumed operations and increased production to relieve the shortage. It is estimated by the end of February, our production capacity could reach almost 180 million protective masks per day.

Third, many Chinese companies, civil society, institutions, and overseas Chinese communities and foreign friends and governments have been actively donating the needed medical supplies and fund to Wuhan, Hubei province and other parts of China.

Q: The virus is also spreading quickly out of China to other countries. What has China done to prevent the virus from crossing the border?

A: As a responsible major country, the Chinese government has taken comprehensive and strict control measures to stop the virus from spreading out of China.

We have carried out temperature screening at all airports, seaports and railway stations to stop the flow of ill travelers or potential patients. Chinese travel agencies have been requested to suspend group tours both domestically and internationally to avoid large-scale spread. The Chinese international airlines have been taking more stringent measures such as temperature screening and all passenger are requested to fill in and sign the Exit and Entry Health Declaration Form to make sure the record of their travel and personnel contact history safe for each and every passenger traveling outside China.

We have also kept close contact with relevant countries to share information timely for them to quickly identify and diagnose infected people back on their soil. In case something happens unexpectedly, we are ready to work together to deal with it properly.

Q: There are SA citizens still trapped in Wuhan and more SA students studying in China. Do you think it's necessary for SA government to evacuate them? How will China ensure the safety of SA nationals in China?

A: There are some SA citizens including business people, visitors, teachers and students still stayed in Wuhan and China. Among them, there are now more than 3000 SA students in China and 165 of them studying in 13 universities in Hubei province.

China has been making and will make every effort to ensure the health and safety of each and every foreigner in China, especially the international students. All universities in China now have taken strict measures to keep campuses far away from the epidemic. We have tried and will try our best to make sure the medical care, daily supplies and logistics support for the foreigners. The Chinese Embassy in SA is in close contact with the education authorities of Hubei to track the situation of SA students there every day. No case of infection among SA students has been reported so far.

The SA government and people will be ensured that China has the strong ability and capacity and enough resources to manage the public health emergency effectively and that SA citizens in China, Hubei Province and Wuhan in particular, are safe. There is no evidence and reason to support repatriation or emergency evacuations of SA citizens from China.

Parents of SA students and the families of those SA nationals in China can feel reassured and relaxed. It is quite normal to see some worries and anxieties from those people in China at this difficult time and from those parents and families. But it is wise, safe, cheap and right for SA students and other citizens to stay in Wuhan and China for a while.

To be frank, it is both unsafe, costly and risky for them to fly back to SA. Because all persons entering or leaving Wuhan are subjected to a 14 days' quarantine to ensure they do not develop symptoms. Foreign nationals who need medical assistance for whatever reason will be treated well and be afforded all the necessary medical care.

In case of any help, the SA students and citizens can contact the local university and community authorities who are on duty 24 hours. For emergency assistance, they can also contact SA Embassy in Beijing or Consulate General in Shanghai or the Chinese Embassy in SA through my official twitter account @AmbLINSongtian or call education attaché Mr. Wang Daoyu at 0732858403.

The hot-lines of the Chinese Embassy in SA and the SA Embassy and consulates in China, have already been published so as to help SA citizens in China to get easy and timely access to the latest information and assistance.

Q: Recently, the WHO declared the novel coronavirus as public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). But the WHO doesn't recommend limiting trade and movement or the evacuation of foreign nationals from China. However, some countries like the US, Japan and Australia still evacuated their nationals from China. What's your comment?

A: American is American. The West is the West. It is hard to change their outdated Cold-war mentality. China has already separated the virus and successfully developed and produced effective reagents to detect the virus. By now, more than 475 infected patients have been cured and discharged from hospital. We believe that the novel coronavirus could be prevented, cured and controlled. The epidemic is expected to reach its peak in the next couple of days and from there will fall down to the end.

China's prevention and control efforts and capacity were highly applauded by WHO and most countries in the world. This is why the Director-General Hon. Tedros of WHO when declaring the outbreak of coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern, he stressed again and again that the main reason for this declaration made by WHO is not because of what is happening in China, or distrusts China, but because of what is happening in other countries, especially those with weaker health systems and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.

He said the declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China. On the contrary, WHO continues to have confidence in China's capability to control the outbreak.

He also stressed that the extraordinary measures and the transparent and effective ways China has taken is commendable. The speed which China detected the outbreak, separated the virus, sequenced the genome and shared it with WHO and the world are very impressive and beyond words. In many ways, China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response. This is not an exaggeration.

Therefore, the DG of WHO reiterated that there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. WHO doesn't recommend limiting trade and movement or the evacuation of foreign nationals from China.

But unfortunately to see that the USA and some other western countries like Japan and Australia did the same as usual as what they did when the Ebola broke out in Western African countries. My serious worries and concerns are that while evacuating their nationals from Wuhan and China, they also transmit the infectious virus to their territories, which truly poses a great threat to spread the coronavirus to the world. For example, after Japan evacuated its nationals from Wuhan, the number of confirmed cases found in Japan jumped from 11 to 20 and one of the evacuation officials even committed suicide. Almost one third of the passengers on board the French evacuation flight were suspected of getting infected.

You may recall that after the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the US was the first country to evacuate their nationals and diplomats and close its embassies in the Western African countries. In sharp contrast, China took the lead to charter 23 planes to dispatch most capable military and civil medical teams and most needed medical supplies to the African region. All the Chinese diplomats, experts, companies and communities are requested to stay there to fight side by side and day and night with local governments and people against the Ebola to the end.

We all know the novel coronavirus is posing a global threat to the health of mankind. It calls for international concerted efforts to win the battle against the virus. But at this crucial stage of epidemic control and prevention, the US and some western countries did not take concrete actions to show their sympathy and supports to China as for at least humanitarian consideration, but ignored and disregarded the declaration and suggestions made by the WHO. It is very clear that such an evil attempt to politicize the evacuation issue is against basic human morality code.

According to the CDC of the USA, from 2010 to 2019, there have been more than 37,000 American every year died of flu. From Oct. 1, 2019 to Jan.18, 2020, about 15 million American people suffered from flu, 140000 were hospitalized and 8200 persons died of flu. We always express our sympathy to the American instead of evacuating our Chinese people from the USA or declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern because we trust American government who always talk so highly about human rights can and will take concrete and effective measures to manage it well.

We believe that this is the battle between the humanity and nature. For the well-being of mankind, countries and peoples in the world shall join hands together to win the battle. We shall take concrete actions to sympathize and support each other and join hands together to build a better world and a better community with a shared future for mankind.

Q: Though there has been no confirmed case reported in SA. But we know some suspected cases happen in its neighboring country Botswana. Has the SA government approached the Chinese government for cooperation to prevent the disease from entering SA?

A: Both China and SA have been in close contact both through bilateral and multilateral channel such as the WHO. Recently, the Chinese Embassy and DIRCO and Department of Health and other stakeholders have held consultation and coordination meetings to discuss the latest situations and how to join hands to deal with this issues properly and effectively, and established close communication mechanism between the two sides.

South African government attaches great importance to preventing and controlling the transmission of the novel coronavirus into SA and has kicked off the high level response systems to deal with it. The Operational Center of Emergency has been put into operation 24 hours. The strict measures and procedures to prevent the virus from entering the country, such as conducting strict temperature screening for international travelers at its entry airports has been intensifying. Special measures have been introduced in OR Tambo International Airport where travelers on direct aircraft from China and Asian countries are required to complete a questionnaire for possible contact tracing. The South African Department of Health has already designated 11 special hospitals in all provinces to quarantine, diagnose and treat patients.

We are also committed to strengthening joint prevention and control cooperation with South Africa to prevent import of the virus into SA. Once there are imported cases in SA, China is ready to jointly deal with it. Now we are on duty to follow every Chinese in SA and every Chinese national on trip to visit SA. Air China has taken strict measures to conduct temperature screening and passenger profiling at Exit Port in China to prevent strictly the spread of virus to SA.

So, we are very sure that by keeping timely contacts and close coordination and cooperation, we will try our best to effectively prevent and control the novel coronavirus both in China and SA and Africa as a whole.

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