Biden flags concern on China’s COVID response as WHO doubts death toll

  • WHO says China does not record hospital admissions and deaths
  • Official data at odds with full hospitals, crematoria
  • EU recommends border checks for travelers from China
  • Asia shares hope that China’s reopening will spur growth

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Jan 5 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden expressed concern over China’s handling of its COVID-19 outbreak hours after the World Health Organization said it was not reporting of virus deaths, comments that are likely to prompt a response from Beijing on Thursday. .

The United States is one of more than a dozen countries that have imposed restrictions on travelers from China since it last month lifted strict COVID controls that had protected its 1.4 billion people from the virus for three years.

Global health officials are scrambling to deal with an outbreak that is filling hospitals and overwhelming some funeral homes, situations at odds with China’s low official virus death toll.

Mike Ryan, director of emergencies at the World Health Organization (WHO), told a media conference on Wednesday that the current figures being released from China represent few hospital admissions, intensive care unit patients and dead

Speaking hours later, Biden said he was concerned about China’s handling of the outbreak.

“They’re very sensitive … when we suggest they haven’t been that close,” he told reporters during a visit to Kentucky.

The WHO’s comments on the lack of data were some of the most critical yet and could draw a critical response from Beijing when it holds a regular foreign ministry press conference later Thursday.

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There was no immediate coverage of Biden’s or WHO’s remarks in Chinese state media on Thursday. The government has recently downplayed the seriousness of the situation.

The state-run Global Times said in an article on Wednesday that COVID infections had peaked in several cities, including the capital, Beijing, citing interviews with doctors.

But on Thursday at a hospital in the Shanghai suburb of Qingpu, patients were on camp beds in the corridors, most of them elderly and several breathing on oxygen tanks. A notice on a board said patients would have to wait an average of five hours to be seen.

Police were on duty outside a nearby crematorium, where a stream of mourners laid wreaths and waited to collect the ashes of loved ones.

China reported one new death from COVID-19 on the mainland on Wednesday, up from five a day earlier, bringing its official death toll to 5,259.

ASIAN MARKET EXPECTATIONS

With one of the lowest COVID death tolls in the world, China has routinely been accused of underreporting infections and deaths for political reasons.

Chinese health officials have said that only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure in patients who had the virus are classified as COVID deaths.

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Methods of counting deaths from COVID have varied by country since the pandemic first broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

But disease experts outside China have said their approach would miss several other types of potentially deadly complications from COVID, from blood clots to heart attacks, as well as sepsis and kidney failure.

International health experts predict at least 1 million deaths related to COVID-1 in China this year without any urgent action. British health data company Airfinity has estimated that around 9,000 people in China are likely to die each day from COVID.

A surge in COVID infections is hurting demand in China’s $17 trillion economy, with a private sector survey on Thursday showing activity in services contracted in December.

But investors remain optimistic that China’s dismantling of COVID controls will eventually help revive growth that has fallen to its slowest pace in nearly half a century. Those hopes were seen lifting Asian equity markets ( .MIAPJ0000PUS ) on Thursday.

“China’s reopening has a big impact … all over the world,” said Joanne Goh, investment strategist at DBS Bank in Singapore, adding that the move would boost tourism and consumption and ease problems of the supply chain observed last year.

China’s yuan hovered around a four-month high against the dollar.

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RESIDUE TEST

As countries try to learn more about the extent and severity of China’s outbreak, several have imposed requirements on travelers from China to be tested for COVID.

European Union officials recommended on Wednesday that passengers flying from China to the 27-member bloc should have a negative COVID-19 test before starting their travels.

Officials also called for testing and sequencing of sewage on planes arriving from China and at airports handling international flights, among other measures.

China has criticized border controls imposed by other countries on its residents as unreasonable and unscientific.

Although China will no longer require arriving travelers to quarantine starting January 8, it will still require them to be tested for COVID before arrival.

The government said on Thursday that its border with its Hong Kong special administrative region would also reopen on Sunday, for the first time in three years.

Hong Kong residents have flooded clinics to get vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of the planned reopening, which some fear will lead to a spike in infections in the financial center.

Reporting by Liz Lee and Bernard Orr in Beijing, Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Steve Holland in Hebron, Kentucky; Written by John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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