China reports no new cases for first time

The official death toll in the country of 1.4 billion people stands at 4,634.
The official death toll in the country of 1.4 billion people stands at 4,634.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • China yesterday reported zero new coronavirus infections for the first time since it started reporting data in January, a day after Communist Party leaders celebrated "major achievements" in the pandemic fight.

The virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year but cases have dwindled dramatically from the peak in mid-February as the country appears to have brought the disease largely under control.

The official death toll in the country of 1.4 billion people stands at 4,634, well below the number of fatalities in much smaller countries.

However, doubt has been cast on the reliability of China's numbers and the United States has led the charge in questioning how much information Beijing has shared with the international community.

The milestone comes a day after the opening of China's legislature - the National People's Congress - where Premier Li Keqiang said the country had "made major strategic achievements in our response to Covid-19". However, he warned that the country still faced "immense" challenges.

The authorities in Wuhan have come under fire for reprimanding and silencing doctors who first raised the alarm about the virus late last year, while repeated changes to counting methodology have cast further doubt over China's official data.

Beijing has strenuously denied accusations of a cover-up, insisting it has always shared information with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other countries in a timely manner.

China's top disease control official said yesterday that public criticism over the initial coro-navirus outbreak was understandable, but defended Beijing's response to the crisis.

"With such a large epidemic in China and the world, it is very normal to receive criticism from the public," Dr Gao Fu, director of China's disease control and prevention centre, told reporters on the sidelines of the country's annual parliamentary meetings.

"We accept them with humility," Dr Gao said, adding that China's disease control centre should improve its epidemic reporting mechanism and address the severe talent drain in the wake of the pandemic.

But despite some of the weaknesses that were exposed in his agency during the pandemic, Dr Gao said the nation's response was "good", compared with other countries', as it had to handle a "closed-book exam".

ACCEPT CRITICISM WITH HUMILITY

With such a large epidemic in China and the world, it is very normal to receive criticism from the public. We accept them with humility.

DR GAO FU, director of China's disease control and prevention centre, on criticism of Beijing's response to the crisis.

However, Chinese scientists are still unable to establish how the virus was passed on to humans, he said, adding: "I hope the public can give scientists more time for us to understand this virus."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 24, 2020, with the headline 'China reports no new cases for first time'. Print Edition | Subscribe