Xi Jinping pledges to beat 'devil' coronavirus
China's president Xi Jinping has pledged to beat the "devil" coronavirus as Hong Kong restricted rail and transport travel to and from the mainland and fears intensified over the disease's economic impact.
At a meeting with the head of the World Health Organization in Beijing, Xi said: "The epidemic is a devil. We cannot let the devil hide."
According to state media, Xi said information about the virus would be shared "transparently, responsibly and in a timely way" after comments from the mayor of Wuhan about slow disclosure. "We have complete confidence and ability to win this defensive battle against the epidemic," Xi said.
The Chinese president's pledge was followed by comments from a Chinese respiratory expert who said the disease could be close to reaching its peak. Zhong Nanshan, who heads a team set up to combat the coronavirus, said the disease was likely to intensify in the next week or two and then start to abate.
"It is very difficult to definitely estimate when the outbreak reaches its peak. But I think in one week or about 10 days, it will reach the climax and then there will be no large-scale increases," Zhong Nanshan told state news agency Xinhua.
Hong Kong announced the suspension of rail services to mainland China from 30 January. The Special Administrative Area's flag carrier, Cathay Pacific, said it would reduce its flights to China by at least half from 30 January until the end of March.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's leader, has come under pressure to close the border with the mainland after Hong Kong's first six coronavirus cases arrived via the China rail link. More than 100 people in China have died from the respiratory disease and confirmed cases there are approaching 4,500 with estimates of true number in the tens of thousands.
Concerns about the economic impact of the virus unnerved markets again on Tuesday. Markets in China remained closed for the new year break but stockmarket indexes in Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo extended losses from Monday.
Analysts are looking back to the Sars epidemic of 2002-2003 for clues about the potential effects of an epidemic in the world's second-biggest economy. Pantheon Macroeconomics suggested China's real output could contract in the first quarter after "dismal" growth of 0.6% in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Analysts at Rabobank said comparing coronavirus with Sars could underestimate the potential impact. In 2003, China contributed 4.2% of global GDP but that figure had risen to 15.8% in 2018 with increased debt sending China's contribution to world growth since the financial crisis to more than half.
Chinese international air traffic has risen from roughly 7.0m in 2003 to 63.7m at the end of 2018 and tourism has increased as a share of a rapidly rising import bill over that period.
"An equivalent proportionate hit to Chinese growth from this current viral episode stands to have far larger implications for demand on a global level," Rabobank said. The data shows" both the far greater heft China now enjoys and the much greater degree of interconnectedness it has with economies beyond its borders", the analysts said.
Capital Economics said falling Chinese tourist numbers would hit growth in emerging Asia in the current quarter after China's decision to ban outbound travel by Chinese tour groups.
The same research shop added that a 50% drop in Chinese tourist arrivals could reduce GDP by up to 3 percentage points in vulnerable countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.