China says UK virus advice to citizens an 'overreaction'

3 min

London (AFP)

Beijing's ambassador to London on Thursday said Britain's advice to its nationals to leave China because of the novel coronavirus outbreak was an "overreaction" and urged the policy to be reversed.

Liu Xiaoming said Beijing had told the UK the move was not "a good idea" and instead called for a more measured approach.

On Tuesday, the British Foreign Office advised UK nationals to leave China "if they can" to minimise their risk of exposure to the coronavirus, following similar advice by the United States.

"I hope the British government... will take an objective, cool-headed view of what is going on in China," Liu said at a press conference at the Chinese embassy in London.

"We did tell them overreaction is not helpful. We don't think there should be such a panic," he added.

"We should support each other, rather than to weaken the other's efforts."

Liu also claimed there had been "some cases of hatred, discrimination, against Chinese nationals", including at schools and universities, because of the virus.

"People should realise that we have a common enemy of mankind. We should say 'no' to discriminatory words and behaviour," he told reporters.

On Thursday, Britain confirmed its third case of the SARS-like virus which has so far killed at least 563 people and sparked global alarm as it spreads around the world.

The ambassador defended China's response to the epidemic, insisting it was "controllable, preventable and curable".

He said London had vowed to follow the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) in its warning to British citizens there.

"We asked them to take (the) advice of (the) WHO to make a reasonable response, do not overreact.

"It seems to me the facts are not entirely squared, the words do not match with the deeds," he added.

- US flu 'more serious' -

Meanwhile, according to Boris Johnson's father, Chinese officials were concerned that the British prime minister had not sent a personal message of support to the country's leaders.

Stanley Johnson, a well-known environmental campaigner, had apparently met Liu to talk about conservation matters.

But in emailed feedback to British officials -- and seemingly sent to the BBC by mistake -- the campaigner revealed that Beijing was upset about the lack of personal support for China's predicament from Boris Johnson.

The British government insisted Stanley Johnson had attended the meeting as a private citizen and was not acting on its behalf.

The PM's deputy spokesman, Jamie Davies, said: "We have been working closely with international partners including China on this.

"Our response has been expert-led by health professionals and it will continue to be."

Liu insisted communications with the prime minister were "good" and that the two men had recently met at a Chinese new year reception at Downing Street.

"He (Johnson) told me he's still committed to the golden years of China-UK relations," the ambassador added.

However, Liu accused some US politicians of trying to "take advantage" of the situation "for political gains", while arguing the common flu virus in the US was "more serious" than the coronavirus.

"This is more serious than coronavirus infection."