US postpones summit with Asean leaders amid Covid-19 fears

March 14 meeting in Las Vegas put off as international community works together to defeat novel coronavirus, say officials. (Bernama pic)

WASHINGTON: The United States has decided to postpone a meeting with Asean leaders it had planned for March 14 due to worries about the Covid-19 outbreak, Reuters reported quoting two US officials familiar with the matter.

It said President Donald Trump had invited the Asean leaders to meet in Las Vegas after he did not attend a summit with the grouping in Bangkok last November.

“As the international community works together to defeat the novel coronavirus, the United States, in consultation with Asean partners, has made the difficult decision to postpone the Asean leaders’ meeting,” one of the sources, a senior administration official, told Reuters.

It quoted the official as saying the US valued its relationships with Asean member states and looked forward to future meetings.

Reuters said the US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It said the decision followed growing fears Covid-19 will spread in the US as countries report new infections, companies announce curbs on employees’ travel, and global stock markets continue to plummet.

The number of confirmed cases in the US is still relatively small at around 60, most of them repatriated American passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said on Monday preparations for the meeting were going ahead in spite of the coronavirus outbreak.

Trump’s decision not to attend the Bangkok meeting had raised questions about the US commitment to the region, Reuters said.