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- State media say severe illness from COVID is rare
- Chinese scientists inform WHO
- Factory activity in China contracted in December
BEIJING/HONG KONG/GENEVA, Jan 3 (Reuters) – State media in China played down the seriousness of a wave of COVID-19 infections on Tuesday as its scientists briefed the World Health Organization, which is seeking detailed information on the evolution of the virus.
The global body invited scientists to present detailed data on the virus sequence at a meeting of a technical advisory group on Tuesday and asked China to share data on hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.
The WHO will communicate later, possibly at a news briefing on Wednesday, its spokesman said after the meeting. Earlier, the spokesman said the agency expected a “detailed discussion” about the variants circulating in China and globally.
China’s abrupt reversal of its control over COVID on Dec. 7, as well as the accuracy of its case and death data, have come under increasing scrutiny at home and abroad.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has identified travel entry restrictions imposed by some countries as “just unreasonable‘, saying they ‘lack scientific basis’.
“We are willing to improve communication with the world,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing.
“But … we strongly oppose attempts to manipulate epidemic prevention and control measures for political purposes.”
The WHO has urged Chinese health officials regularly share specific information in real time on the hearth.
A White House National Security Council official did not comment on Tuesday’s meeting, but echoed the WHO’s calls for more information.
“Public health experts and officials, including in the United States, have been clear that it is important for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to share more adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genome sequence data,” the official said. “This is in the interest of the PRC and the international community and is critical to identifying potential options.”
China’s move away from the “zero COVID-19” policy championed by President Xi Jinping followed protests that represented the strongest public disobedience of his decade in power and coincided with the slowest economic growth in nearly half a century.
As the virus spreads unchecked, funeral homes are reporting a surge in demand for their services, and international health experts are predicting at least one million deaths in China this year.
China reported three new COVID-19 deaths on Monday, bringing the official death toll since the start of the pandemic to 5,253.
On Tuesday, the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, quoted Chinese experts as saying that the illness caused by the virus is relatively mild for most people.
“Severe and critical illnesses account for 3% to 4% of infected patients currently admitted to certain hospitals in Beijing,” Tong Zhaowei, vice president of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, told the newspaper.
Kang Yan, head of Sichuan University’s West China Tianfu Hospital, said 46 patients had been admitted to intensive care units in the past three weeks, accounting for about 1 percent of symptomatic infections.
Two leading scientists and WHO committee members said before the meeting that they would seek “a more realistic picture” of the situation in China. They did not comment further after it ended.
But some experts doubted Beijing would be very forthright.
“I don’t think China will be very sincere in disclosing information,” said Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
“They’d rather just keep it to themselves or they’d say nothing happened, nothing new. My own feeling is that we can accept that there is nothing new … but the problem is that China’s transparency problem is always there.”
The United States, France, Italy and others have said they will require travelers from China to be tested for COVID. European Union health officials will meet on Wednesday for a coordinated response.
“As we said, the United States has offered China vaccines and other support against COVID-19. China has indicated publicly that it appreciates the proposal but does not need the support. We continue to stand by our proposal,” a spokesman for the White House told the National Security Council.
China will stop requiring incoming travelers to undergo quarantine from January 8. But it will still require a pre-departure test.
As Chinese workers and shoppers fall ill, concerns grow about the near-term outlook for the world’s second-largest economy, causing volatility in global financial markets.
A study published on Tuesday showed that China factory activity shrank last month.
a”Forest fire“Infections in China in the coming months are likely to hurt its economy this year and dampen global growth,” International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said.
“China is entering the most dangerous weeks of the pandemic,” Capital Economics analysts warned.
The European Union has offered for free COVID vaccines in China as fears of rising infections grow. Beijing has not yet responded to the proposal, an EU spokesman said.
China has so far insisted that only Chinese-made vaccines, which are considered less effective than Western vaccines based on mRNA technology, be used.
(This story has been corrected to remove the redundant word in paragraph 9)
Reporting from the Beijing and Shanghai offices; additional reporting by Trevor Honeycutt and Steve Holland in Washington, Farah Master in Hong Kong, Emma Farge in Geneva and Jennifer Rigby in London; Written by Marius Zachariah and Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsell, Simon Cameron-Moore and Tomasz Janowski
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