China is hopeful that India will not put trade restrictions and limit movement of people to the country in the wake of the novel coronavirus epidemic, Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong told PTI in an interview. He said that China’s foreign ministry and local governments would ensure the safety of Indians and those working at Indian diplomatic missions in China.

“We should not suspend but expand the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries,” Sun told the news agency.

On Tuesday, India tightened visa restrictions for travellers from China amid the novel coronavirus virus outbreak. As many as 647 Indians were brought back from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Air India planes on the weekend. In India, there are three positive cases – all from Kerala. The three patients recently returned from Wuhan.

“We hope that the Indian citizens will not overreact or panic over the outbreak,” said Sun. “It is better to remain rational and calm, and judge China’s prevention and control efforts with objectivity and compassion. China is ready to continue to work with India, strengthen communication and coordination, and safeguard the health and safety of Indian citizens in China.”

The envoy said that China is a responsible country, and will protect the health of those living there. “We need your understanding and support for the cooperation between China and India in epidemic control to ensure normal personnel exchanges and trade between the two countries,” Sun added.

Sun admitted that there could be short-term impact of the epidemic on the Chinese economy. He, however, added that the country has enough resources to cope with the volatility. “China has rich experience in successfully dealing with SARS and the international financial crisis,” said the envoy. “This time will be no exception.”

The novel coronavirus is said to have emerged late last year in a Wuhan seafood market in Hubei province that was illegally trading wildlife. It can cause pneumonia and spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes. Studies suspect that bats are the origin of the disease.

The total number of deaths from the novel coronavirus outbreak in China rose to 490 on Tuesday, up 65 from the previous day, PTI reported. The number of total confirmed infections in China soared 24,324, China’s National Health Commission announced on Wednesday.

The novel coronavirus has spread to nearly 25 countries. The global toll is 492, with deaths of a person each from the Chinese special administrative region of Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The World Health Organization on Tuesday refused to declare the outbreak a pandemic and said there was a “window of opportunity” to prevent the spread. The lockdowns put in place by China offered a chance to stop the transmission, it said. The World Health Organization had last week declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern but stopped short of recommending trade and travel restrictions.

Sun said the declaration of public health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak in China is not a vote of no-confidence on China. “This declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but to take care of other countries with relatively poor sanitary conditions,” he added.

Cathay Pacific asks 27,000 employees to take up unpaid leave

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has asked its 27,000 employees to take up to three weeks of unpaid leave, reported AFP. The airline is struggling financially and said that with the coronavirus outbreak, preserving its cash is now “the key to protecting our business”.

“I am hoping all of you will participate, from our frontline employees to our senior leaders, and to share in our current challenges,” Chief Executive Officer Augustus Tang said in a video message on Wednesday.

Several countries have banned flights to and from China, restricted travel, and in some cases, closed their borders with the country.

Meanwhile, United and American Airlines on Wednesday announced plans to temporarily suspend flights to Hong Kong. Both the airlines will continue with the suspension of flights to the financial hub till February 20 as there has been a remarkable drop in passengers.