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China defend its Covid response after WHO, Biden concerns

China on Thursday defended its handling of raging COVID-19 outbreak after U.S. President Joe Biden voiced concern while the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Beijing was under-reporting virus deaths.    

WHO’s emergencies director, Mike Ryan said, in some of the U.N. health agency’s most critical remarks to date, that Chinese officials were under-representing data on several fronts.

China scrapped its stringent COVID controls last month after protests, abandoning a policy that had shielded its 1.4 billion population from the virus for three years.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular press briefing in Beijing that China had transparently and quickly shared COVID data with the WHO.

Mao said that China’s “epidemic situation is controllable” and that it hoped the WHO would “uphold a scientific, objective, and impartial position”.

“Facts have proved 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 COVID death in the mainland on Wednesday, compared to five a day earlier, bringing its official death toll to 5,259.

Hours later, U.S. President Joe Biden also raised concern about China’s handling of a COVID outbreak that is filling hospitals and overwhelming some funeral homes.

The United States is one of more than a dozen countries that have imposed restrictions on travelers from China.

China’s government has played down the severity of the situation in recent days and the state-run Global Times said in an article on Wednesday that COVID had peaked in several cities including the capital, Beijing, citing interviews with doctors.

But at a hospital in Shanghai’s suburban Qingpu district, patients on beds lined the corridors of the emergency treatment area and main lobby on Thursday, most of them elderly and several breathing with oxygen tanks, a Reuters witness said.

In December of last year, the WHO said it had received no data from China on new COVID hospitalisations since Beijing lifted its zero-COVID policy.

In its latest weekly report, WHO said China reported 218,019 new weekly COVID cases as of January 1, adding that gaps in data might be due to authorities simply struggling to tally cases.

The methods for counting COVID deaths varies across countries since the pandemic first erupted in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

Millions of people will be travelling within China later this month for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas