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Trump tells Xi he has 'confidence' in China battling coronavirus

Trump tells Xi he has 'confidence' in China battling coronavirus

US President Donald Trump (R) and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. (Photo: AFP/JIM WATSON)

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has expressed his "confidence" in China's ability to tackle the novel coronavirus epidemic during talks with his Beijing counterpart Xi Jinping.

Trump "expressed confidence in China's strength and resilience in confronting the challenge of the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak", the White House said in a statement on Friday (Feb 7). 

READ: China coronavirus death toll hits 636, more than 30,000 infections

READ: Another 41 on cruise liner off Japan have new coronavirus

The viral outbreak, which is believed to have originated in central China late last year, has now infected at least 31,000 people and caused 636 deaths, mostly within China.

"The two leaders agreed to continue extensive communication and cooperation between both sides," said the White House following reports in Chinese state media that the two had spoken on the phone about the matter.

According to China's state broadcaster CCTV, Xi also told Trump on the phone that China was "fully confident and capable of defeating the epidemic" and that "the long-term trend of China's economic development for the better will not change". 

Local governments across China have locked down cities of tens of millions of people in response to the crisis, while global panic has risen over the more than 240 cases that have emerged in two dozen countries.

Xi's comments come hours after the death of a whistleblower doctor, punished for sharing information about the virus, prompted an immense outpouring of public grief and anger over how Chinese authorities have handled the crisis.

READ: It's too early to say coronavirus peaking in China: WHO

Xi called the fight to contain the virus a "people's war" and told Trump that China has implemented "nationwide mobilisation, comprehensive deployment and rapid response" along with "the strictest prevention and control measures" against the virus.

Xi also urged the US to act "reasonably" in response to the outbreak, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Beijing has hit out against strict measures by other countries to contain the spread of the virus, calling travel bans against Chinese arrivals by a growing list of nations "unkind" and going against the advice of the World Health Organization.

The US has temporarily barred entry to foreigners who have been in China within the past two weeks, joining countries including Italy, Singapore and Mongolia who have announced expansive restrictions on travellers from the virus-hit country.

The United States, Japan, Britain, Germany and other nations have also advised their citizens not to travel to China.

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