China state media plays down severity of Covid wave before WHO meeting – World

China’s state media played down the severity on Tuesday of the Covid-19 wave surging over the country, with its scientists expected to give a briefing to the World Health Organisation on the evolution of the virus later in the day.

China’s abrupt U-turn on Covid controls on Dec 7, as well as the accuracy of its case and mortality data, have come under increasing scrutiny at home and overseas and prompted some countries to impose travel curbs.

The policy shift followed protests over the “zero Covid” approach championed by President Xi Jinping, marking the strongest show of public defiance in his decade-old presidency and coinciding with the slowest growth in China in nearly half a century.

As the virus spreads unchecked, funeral parlours report a spike in demand for their services and international health experts predict at least one million deaths in the world’s most populous country this year.

China reported three new Covid deaths for Monday, up from one for Sunday. Its official death toll since the pandemic began now stands at 5,253.

In an article on Tuesday, People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, cited several Chinese experts as saying the illness caused by the virus was relatively mild for most people.

“Severe and critical illnesses account for 3 per cent to 4pc of infected patients currently admitted to designated hospitals in Beijing,” Tong Zhaohui, Vice President of Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, told the newspaper.

Kang Yan, head of West China Tianfu Hospital of Sichuan University, said that in the past three weeks, a total of 46 critically ill patients have been admitted to intensive care units, accounting for about 1pc of symptomatic infections.

More than 80pc of those living in the southwestern Sichuan province have been infected, local health authorities said.

The WHO on Friday urged China’s health officials to regularly share specific and real-time information on the Covid situation.

The agency has invited Chinese scientists to present detailed data on viral sequencing at a meeting of a technical advisory group scheduled for Tuesday. It has also asked China to share data on hospitalisations, deaths and vaccinations.

The European Union has offered free Covid vaccines to China to help contain the outbreak, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

EU government health officials will hold talks on Wednesday on a coordinated response to China’s outbreak, the Swedish EU presidency said on Monday.

The United States, France, Australia, India, and others will require mandatory Covid tests on travellers from China, while Belgium said it will test wastewater from planes from China for new Covid variants.

China has rejected criticism of its Covid data and said any new mutations may be more infectious but less harmful.

“According to the political logic of some people in Europe and the United States, whether China opens or does not open is equally the wrong thing to do,” state-run CCTV said in a commentary late on Monday.

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