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  • China's COVID outbreak raises global alarm

    Author: AAP

Global health officials have tried to determine the facts of China's raging COVID-19 outbreak and how to prevent a further spread as the government's mouthpiece newspaper rallied citizens for a "final victory" over the virus.

China's axing of its stringent virus curbs last month has unleashed COVID on a 1.4 billion population that has little natural immunity having been shielded from the virus since it emerged in its Wuhan city three years ago.

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Funeral homes have reported a spike in demand for their services, hospitals are packed with patients, and international health experts predict at least one million deaths in China this year.

But officially, China has reported a small number of COVID deaths since the policy U-turn and has played down concerns about a disease that it was previously at pains to eradicate through mass lockdowns even as the rest of the world opened up.

"China and the Chinese people will surely win the final victory against the epidemic," Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily said in an editorial on Wednesday, rebutting criticism of its tough anti-virus regime that triggered historic protests late last year.

As it now dismantles those restrictions, China has been particularly critical of decisions by some countries to impose a requirement for a COVID test on its citizens, saying they are unreasonable and lack scientific basis.

Health officials from the 27-member European Union are due to meet on Wednesday on a coordinated response to deal with implications of increased travel from China.

Most European Union countries favour pre-departure COVID testing for travellers from China, the European Commission said on Tuesday, following similar measures imposed by the US, Britain, South Korea and others.

China, which has been largely shut off from the world since the pandemic began in late 2019, will stop requiring inbound travellers to quarantine from January 8. But it will still demand that arriving passengers get tested before they begin their journeys.

Meanwhile, World Health Organisation officials met Chinese scientists on Tuesday amid concern over the accuracy of China's data on the spread and evolution of its outbreak.

The UN agency had invited the scientists to present detailed data on viral sequencing and to share data on hospitalisations, deaths and vaccinations.

The WHO would release information about the talks later, probably at a Wednesday briefing, its spokesperson said. The spokesperson earlier said the agency expected a "detailed discussion" about circulating variants in China, and globally.

Last month, Reuters reported that the WHO had not received data from China on new COVID hospitalisations since Beijing's policy shift, prompting some health experts to question whether it might be concealing the extent of its outbreak.

China reported five new COVID-19 deaths for Tuesday, compared with three a day earlier, bringing the official death toll to 5258, very low by global standards.

But the toll is widely believed to be much higher. British-based health data firm Airfinity has said about 9000 people in China are probably dying each day from COVID.

There were chaotic scenes at Shanghai's Zhongshan hospital where patients, many of them elderly, jostled for space on Tuesday in packed halls between makeshift beds where people used oxygen ventilators and got intravenous drips.

With COVID disruptions slowing China's $US17 trillion ($A25 trillion) economy to its lowest growth in nearly half a century, investors are now hoping policymakers will intervene to counter the slide.

China's yuan hovered at a four-month high against the dollar on Wednesday, after its finance minister pledged to step up fiscal expansion this year, days after the central bank said it would implement more policy support for the economy.

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