Hong Kong tightened its border controls with mainland China yesterday after thousands of hospital workers went on strike to demand greater protection from the deadly coronavirus that has infected more than 17,000 people.
The unprecedented strike came as Beijing, which is struggling to contain the virus, blamed the US for stirring fear by evacuating diplomatic staff and warning citizens not to travel at all to the country.
"All it [the US] has done could only create and spread fear, which is a bad example," China's foreign ministry said.
Russia said yesterday it may deport foreigners who test positive for coronavirus as Russian military planes flew into Hubei, the province at the centre of the outbreak, to evacuate citizens. Two Chinese nationals were diagnosed with the virus last week in Siberia.
Moscow also halted passenger trains to China and the last train from Beijing rolled into Russia empty after 136 passengers, all Chinese nationals, were taken off at the border, the RIA news agency reported.
Hua Chunying, a ministry spokesperson, accused "some countries, and especially the US" of an "overreaction" and taking "excessive measures, which are obviously contrary to what the WHO [World Health Organisation] suggested".
"They were the first to evacuate consulate staff from Wuhan, the first to suggest partial withdrawal of embassy staff, and the first country to announce a complete travel ban on Chinese nationals... it took a very bad lead," she said.
In China itself, drones warned residents in some areas to stay indoors rather than risk spreading infection.
According to a report in China's 'Global Times', a group playing the traditional tile game mahjong in Chengdu was stopped mid-game by a drone that hovered nearby.
"Playing mahjong outside is banned during the epidemic," said a voice from the drone.
"You have been spotted. Stop playing and leave the site as soon as possible."
Hong Kong, which lost close to 300 residents during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, remains on edge as fears grow that coronavirus will spread further.
It has so far confirmed 15 cases.
Authorities in China said there had now been 361 deaths as a result of the virus out of 17,205 cases. (© Daily Telegraph, London)