UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Saturday praised China's "remarkable" response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and warned against stigmatization.
"It is clear that there is a massive effort that is made by China in order to contain the disease and avoid its propagation. I think that that effort is remarkable," Guterres said during a press conference at the headquarters of the African Union, which will open a two-day summit for heads of state Sunday.
"The Chinese themselves recognize that the dimension is such that there are some handicaps and some problems that have to be addressed," he said.
Guterres' comments came as the death toll from the outbreak soared to 722, closing in on the 774 killed worldwide during the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic.
Nearly 35,000 people have been infected by the virus, which is believed to have emerged in a market selling wild animals in Wuhan last year before spreading across China.
With panic spiraling around the globe -- more than 320 cases have emerged in nearly 30 other countries -- researchers are racing to find treatments and a vaccine to fight the virus.
Guterres said Saturday that "very strong international cooperation and solidarity" were needed.
"We need to avoid the stigmatization that can sometimes accompany a situation like this, in which all of a sudden people who have nothing to do with it are stigmatized for any reasons," he said.
"I think it's important to keep a very strong human rights perspective."
Africa has not confirmed any cases of novel coronavirus, though several African countries including Ethiopia have recorded suspected cases.
Ethiopian Airlines, Africa's largest airline, has broken with other carriers on the continent and opted not to suspend its 35 weekly flights to China.