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WHO urges China to share more information on surging COVID-19 infections

by Haruna Gimba

By Asmau Ahmad

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged China to share specific and timely information on its coronavirus situation in the light of global concerns about a lack of transparency in the surging number of Covid-19 cases in the country.

At an online meeting with officials from China’s National Health Commission and National Disease Control and Prevention Administration on Friday, it asked the Chinese officials to regularly share “specific and real-time data on the epidemiological situation,” including “more genetic sequencing data” and data on hospital admissions, deaths and vaccinations.

“WHO stressed the importance of monitoring and the timely publication of data to help China and the global community to formulate accurate risk assessments and to inform effective responses,” it said in a statement issued on Friday.

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It also invited Chinese scientists “to present detailed data on viral sequencing” at a meeting of a technical advisory group on January 3.

The National Health Commission has stopped reporting the numbers of daily COVID-19 infections and fatalities, saying they failed to accurately reflect the full picture of the rise in infections across the country after Beijing dismantled its zero-Covid policies, including an end to mass testing and compulsory quarantine.

The country also has a narrow definition of what counts as a Covid-19 death that excludes anyone with pre-existing conditions.

A number of countries – including the United States, Japan, India, Italy, Spain, France, England and South Korea– said they would require travellers from China to present evidence of a negative test for COVID-19, with some calling on Beijing to enhance transparency.

The US State Department said that at a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and then foreign minister Wang Yi on December 22 to discuss the COVID-19 situation, Blinken “underscored the importance of transparency for the international community.”

European Union health chief Stella Kyriakides also warned the bloc to take action on waste water monitoring and expanding genomic sequencing of COVID-19 infections due to the scarcity of reliable epidemiological and testing data from China, saying it should be “very vigilant” as China lifted travel restrictions on January 8.

“Given the health situation in that country, we know the importance of acting with coordination, but also the importance of acting quickly,” she said.

Mainland China reported one new COVID-19 death on Friday and one on Thursday, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday.

The official COVID-19 death toll has risen to 5,248, but many have questioned the accuracy of the figure, with reports of overwhelmed morgues and long queues at crematoriums.

Chinese officials also insisted the country had always been transparent in its handling of COVID-19.

“Since the outbreak of the epidemic, China has been sharing relevant information and data with the international community, including WHO, in an open and transparent manner,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Friday.

“We shared the sequence of the new coronavirus at the first instance, thus making important contributions to the development of relevant vaccines, drugs in other countries.”

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