February 2, 2023

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Chinese media downplays the severity of COVID as the World Health Organization seeks details about the variants

  • State media says severe illness from the coronavirus is rare
  • Chinese scientists brief the World Health Organization
  • Chinese factory activity contracted in December

BEIJING/HONG KONG/GENEVA, Jan. 3 (Reuters) – China’s state media downplayed the severity of a surge in COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, while its scientists briefed the World Health Organization, which is seeking detailed information on the development. from the virus.

The global organization had called on scientists to provide detailed data on viral sequences at a meeting of a technical advisory group on Tuesday, and had asked China to share data on hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.

A WHO spokeswoman said after the meeting that the WHO would communicate later, possibly at a news conference on Wednesday. The spokesperson said earlier that the agency expects a “detailed discussion” about circulating variants in China, and globally.

China’s abrupt shift in COVID controls on December 7, as well as the accuracy of its case and death data, have come under increasing scrutiny at home and abroad.

China’s foreign ministry has called the travel restrictions imposed by some countries “simply unreasonable”, saying they “lack scientific basis”.

“We are willing to improve communication with the world,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing.

“But … we firmly oppose attempts to manipulate epidemic prevention and control measures for political purposes,” he added.

The World Health Organization has urged Chinese health officials to regularly share specific, real-time information about the outbreak.

A White House National Security Council official did not comment on Tuesday’s meeting, but echoed WHO calls for more information.

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“Public health experts and officials, including in the United States, have made it clear that it is important for the People’s Republic of China to share more complete and transparent epidemiological and viral genome sequencing data,” the official said. “This is in the interests of the People’s Republic of China and the international community and is crucial to identify any potential variables.”

China’s shift away from the “zero COVID” policy championed by President Xi Jinping in the wake of protests represents the strongest display of public defiance during his decade in power and coincides with the slowest growth of the economy in nearly half a century.

With the virus spreading unchecked, funeral homes have reported a surge in demand for their services and international health experts predict at least 1 million deaths in China this year.

China reported three new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday, bringing the official death toll since the pandemic began to 5,253.

“ relatively light “

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 was relatively mild for most people.

“Serious and critical illnesses account for 3% to 4% of infected patients currently admitted to certain hospitals in Beijing,” Tong Zhaohui, deputy chief of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, told the newspaper.

In the past three weeks, 46 patients have been admitted to intensive care units, accounting for about 1% of symptomatic infections, said Kang Yan, chief of Sichuan University’s West China Tianfu Hospital.

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Two senior scientists and members of the WHO panel said before it met that they would seek a “more realistic picture” of the situation in China. They didn’t comment further after it was over.

But some experts were skeptical that Beijing would be so forthright.

“I don’t think China will be very honest in revealing information,” said Alfred Wu, an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

“They’d rather keep it to themselves or say nothing happened, nothing new. My sense is we can assume there’s nothing new… But the problem is, the issue of transparency in China is always there.”

The United States, France, Italy and other countries have said they will require COVID tests on travelers from China. European Union health officials will meet on Wednesday on a coordinated response.

China will stop requiring inbound travelers to enter quarantine from January 8, but will still require a pre-departure test.

Serious weeks

As Chinese workers and shoppers fall ill, concerns grow about the near-term outlook for the world’s second-largest economy, causing global financial markets to turn volatile.

A survey released on Tuesday showed that Chinese factory activity contracted last month.

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, said a “wildfire” of casualties in China in the coming months is likely to hurt its economy this year and push down global growth.

“China is entering the most dangerous weeks of the epidemic,” Capital Economics analysts warn.

The European Union has offered free COVID-19 vaccines to China as fears grow that infection rates will rise. An EU spokesman said Beijing had not yet responded to the offer.

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China has so far insisted on using only Chinese-made vaccines, which are seen as less effective than Western vaccines based on mRNA technology.

Reporting by the Beijing and Shanghai offices; Additional reporting by Trevor Honeycutt in Washington, Farah Master in Hong Kong, Emma Farge in Geneva and Jennifer Rigby in London; Written by Marius Zaharia and Sumit Chatterjee; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Purcell, Simon Cameron-Moore, and Thomas Janowski

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.