- China says the outbreak is under control
- WHO says China is underreporting hospitalizations and deaths
- Official data in contrast to overcrowded hospitals and crematoriums
- Asian shares rose on hopes that China’s reopening will boost growth
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Jan 5 (Reuters) – China defended its handling of the raging COVID-19 outbreak on Thursday after U.S. President Joe Biden expressed concern and the World Health Organization (WHO) said Beijing was undercounting deaths. from viruses.
WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan said on Wednesday that Chinese officials were underreporting on several fronts, some of the UN agency’s most critical remarks yet.
China lifted its strict controls on COVID last month after protests against them, abandoning a policy that had protected its population of 1.4 billion from the virus for three years.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning told a regular media briefing in Beijing that China had transparently and promptly shared data on COVID with the WHO and said “the epidemic situation in China is controllable.”
“The facts prove that China has always, in accordance with the principles of legality, timeliness, openness and transparency, maintained close communication and shared relevant information and data with the WHO in a timely manner,” Mao said.
China reported one new mainland COVID death on Wednesday, up from five a day earlier, bringing the official death toll to 5,259.
Ryan said China’s numbers underrepresented hospitalizations, intensive care patients and deaths, and said Beijing’s definition of COVID-related deaths was too narrow.
Hours later, US President Joe Biden expressed concern about China’s handling of the COVID outbreak, i.e. filling hospitals and prevailing some funeral homes.
“They’re very sensitive … when we’re assuming they weren’t that forthcoming,” Biden told reporters.
The French Minister of Health voted similar concerns, while German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach expressed concern for a new subvariant of COVID associated with increasing hospitalizations in the US.
The United States is one of more than a dozen countries that have imposed restrictions on travelers from China. Germany announced stricter rules in Thursday.
China, which has criticized such border controls, said it borders its Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will reopen on Sundayfor the first time in three years.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways (0293.HK) said on Thursday it would double flights to mainland China.
Millions of people will travel to China later this month for the Lunar New Year holiday, an event the WHO says could generate a new wave of infections without higher vaccination rates and other precautions.
China downplays the seriousness of the situation. The state-run Global Times reported on Wednesday that COVID had peaked in Beijing and several cities, citing interviews with doctors.
But at a hospital in Shanghai’s suburban Qingpu district, bedridden patients lined the corridors of the emergency area and main lobby on Thursday, most of them elderly and a few breathing on oxygen tanks, a witness told Reuters.
A bulletin board reported that patients would have to wait an average of five hours to be seen.
Staff pronounced one elderly patient dead and attached a note to the body on the floor with the cause of death “respiratory failure”.
Police patrolled outside a nearby crematorium where mourners laid wreaths and waited to collect the ashes of their loved ones.
With one of the lowest official death tolls from COVID in the world, China is regularly accused of under-reporting for political reasons.
In December, the WHO said it had received no data from China on new COVID hospitalizations after Beijing’s policy reversal.
In its latest weekly report, the WHO said China reported 218,019 new weekly cases of COVID as of Jan. 1, adding that data gaps may be due to authorities struggling to report cases.
Methods of counting COVID deaths have varied across countries since the outbreak of the pandemic in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
Chinese health officials said only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure in patients who had the virus are classified as COVID deaths.
disease experts outside China say his approach misses other widely recognized types of fatal complications of COVID, from blood clots to heart attacks, sepsis and kidney failure.
International health experts predict at least 1 million COVID-related deaths in China this year without emergency action. British-based health data firm Airfinity has estimated that around 9,000 people in China are likely to die each day from COVID.
Rising COVID infections are hurting demand in China’s $17 trillion economy, a private sector survey showed on Thursday activity in services contracted in December.
But investors expect China’s lifting of COVID controls to revive growth, which has fallen to its lowest rate in nearly half a century, hopes that lifted Asian stock markets (.MIAPJ0000PUS) in Thursday.
“China’s reopening has a big impact … globally,” said Joan Guo, investment strategist at DBS Bank in Singapore, saying it would boost tourism and consumption and ease disruptions in the supply chain.
The end of travel restrictions in China this month is expected to revive demand in the global luxury retail market, but many consumers now see more reasons to shop high-end locally.
Reporting by Liz Lee, Eduardo Baptista and Bernard Orr in Beijing, Brenda Guo in Shanghai, Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Steve Holland in Hebron, Kentucky; Written by John Geddy and Greg Torode; Editing by Robert Birsel and Raisa Kasolovsky
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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