China’s foreign ministry labelled travel entry curbs imposed by countries including Canad as “simply unreasonable,” saying they “lacked scientific basis.”
The comments came ahead of a briefing on Tuesday by Chinese scientists to the World Health Organization, which hoped for a “detailed discussion” on the evolution of the virus.
China’s abrupt U-turn on COVID-19 controls on Dec. 7, as well as the accuracy of its case and mortality data, have come under increasing scrutiny at home and abroad.
“We are willing to improve communication with the world,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing.
“But … we are firmly opposed to attempts to manipulate the epidemic prevention and control measures for political purposes, and will take corresponding measures in different situations according to the principle of reciprocity.”
WATCH l Effectiveness of China travel measures debated:
Canada to require COVID-19 test for travellers from China
Australia, Canada, the United States, France and others will require COVID tests on travellers from China, while Belgium said it would test wastewater from planes for new variants.
The European Union said on Tuesday that member states agreed on a “co-ordinated approach” to the changing COVID-19 situation, adding that included implications for increased travel from China.
EU health chief Stella Kyriakides said the committee worked on targeted measures, including pre-departure testing for travellers from China, stepped-up wastewater monitoring and increased domestic surveillance.
Hospitals vary in rate of severe illness
China’s shift away from a “zero-COVID” policy that had been championed by President Xi Jinping followed protests that had marked the strongest show of public defiance during his decade in power and had coincided with the economy’s slowest growth in nearly half a century.
As the virus spreads unchecked, funeral parlours have reported a spike in demand for their services and international health experts predict at least one million deaths in China this year.
China reported three new COVID-19 deaths for Monday, taking its official death toll since the pandemic began to 5,253.
Patients on stretchers are seen at Tongren hospital in Shanghai on Tuesday. State media has reported that the large majority of virus cases are mild, but the sheer number of cases appears to be stressing parts of the health-care system. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)
On Tuesday, the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, cited 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 4 per cent of infected patients currently admitted to designated hospitals in Beijing,” Tong Zhaohui, vice-president of the 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 patients had been admitted to intensive care units, or about 1 per cent of symptomatic infections.
Meanwhile, the emergencies area at the Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai was packed with patients on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said.
Some were in beds in the corridor receiving IV treatment while dozens were queuing around them, waiting to see a doctor. It was unclear how many were there with COVID-19.
WHO hopes for transparency
The World Health Organization has urged Chinese health officials to regularly share specific and real-time information on the outbreak.
The WHO had invited Chinese scientists to present detailed data on viral sequencing at a technical advisory group meeting on Tuesday. It has also asked China to share data on hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.
Ahead of the meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon Geneva time, a WHO spokesperson said that a “detailed discussion” was expected about circulating variants in China, and globally, with Chinese scientists expected to make a presentation.
WATCH l Scenes hint at crisis, but data often hard to come by:
Patients flood China’s hospitals amid COVID-19 surge
Two leading scientists and members of the committee gathering on Tuesday said they would seek a “more realistic picture” of the situation in China. They did not comment further on the private meeting after it ended.
The WHO spokesperson added that the agency would communicate at a later stage, probably at a news briefing on Wednesday.
But some experts doubted that China would be very forthright.
“I don’t think China will be very sincere in disclosing information,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at National University of Singapore.
“They would rather just keep it to themselves or they would say nothing happened, nothing is new. My own sense is that we could assume that there is nothing new … but the problem is China’s transparency issue is always there.”
China last month announced it would stop requiring inbound travellers to go into quarantine from Jan. 8, but it will still demand a pre-departure test.
Busy Lunar New Year approaches
As Chinese workers and shoppers fall ill, concerns mount about near-term growth prospects in the world’s second-largest economy, causing volatility in global financial markets.
A “bushfire” of infections in China in coming months is likely to hurt its economy this year and drag global growth lower, said the head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva.
“China is entering the most dangerous weeks of the pandemic,” warned Capital Economics analysts.
Mobility data suggested that economic activity was depressed nationwide and would likely remain so until infections subside, they added.
Expectations are higher for the big Lunar New Year holiday, late this month, when some experts predict infections will have peaked in many places.