As cases of a new coronavirus rise in the United States, so has the government’s response, prompting condemnation from China for causing panic instead of offering aid.
On Sunday, health officials in California confirmed three additional cases of the virus, bringing the total cases in the U.S. up to 11. In the two weeks since the virus was first identified in America, U.S. officials evacuated citizens from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, issued the highest level of travel advisory and imposed restrictions on inbound flights from China.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters America’s actions have “unceasingly manufactured and spread panic,” according to Reuters.
“It is precisely developed countries like the United States with strong epidemic prevention capabilities and facilities that have taken the lead in imposing excessive restrictions contrary to [World Health Organization] recommendations,” Hua said.
WHO Director-General TEdros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) on Thursday, but adamantly opposed countries imposing travel or trade restrictions on China. Under a PHEIC, emergency committee chair Didier Houssin said WHO had the ability to question how United Nations members responded to the outbreak and would urge countries to reconsider restricting travel, quarantining people in “good condition” and closing borders.
“WHO should inform the world about transparency concerning these measures, which should not constitute an example to follow but a decision to reconsider,” Houssin said.
The U.S. began evacuating government personnel, their families and some private citizens from Wuhan on Tuesday with more evacuations expected to occur this week. President Donald Trump announced in a proclamation Friday that foreign nationals who were in China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days of their arrival to the U.S. would be refused entry.
In addition, on Sunday, the State Department increased the travel advisory from a Level 3 that urged people to “reconsider” their travel plans to Level 4, the most severe advisory, that told citizens to not travel to China. Those who were in China were urged to try to leave the country or stay at home as much as possible and limit contact with others to reduce the risk of infection.
At the time of the PHEIC declaration, nearly 8,000 people contracted the virus around the world. The number of confirmed cases has since increased to 17,389 as of Monday morning, according to Tedros. Of those cases, 11 were confirmed in the U.S., primarily involving people who recently visited Wuhan. Two people who tested positive for the virus never visited China but were exposed to the virus through their spouse who recently returned from Wuhan.
The virus, temporarily named 2019-nCoV, has claimed the lives of 362 people, including one person in the Philippines, the only death reported outside of China.
Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Sunday that officials offered China “tremendous help” to tackle the epidemic. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien elaborated on that help during an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation, telling host Margaret Brennan that officials offered to send people from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other medical and public health professions to China.
“And we have not heard back yet from the Chinese on those offers, but we’re prepared to continue to cooperate with them,” O’Brien said. “…It’s serious for China. It’s serious for the region and for the world. That’s why we’re taking the steps we’re taking to protect Americans right now.”
Hua claimed during her Monday news briefing that the U.S.government “has yet to provide any substantial assistance to China,” according to Reuters.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency on Friday, giving state, local and tribal health departments more flexibility in assigning resources to the 2019-nCoV response. Despite precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, the CDC and Azar maintained the risk to the American public is low.