China strongly criticised American officials as “shameless and morally repulsive” on Thursday for raising questions about the number of Chinese people infected and killed by the new coronavirus.
US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the coronavirus statistics China was reporting seemed “a little bit on the light side”, while his national security adviser said Washington had no way of knowing if Beijing’s figures were accurate.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a briefing in Beijing that China has been open and transparent about the pandemic in the country.
“These comments by those US politicians are just shameless and morally repulsive,” she said. “They should abandon such politicising of public health issues. This is just immoral and inhuman – and will be denounced by people all around the world.”
Bloomberg News reported that a classified US intelligence report concluded that China had under-reported the total cases and deaths it had suffered.
The coronavirus outbreak began in China in late 2019, but Beijing has reported fewer cases and deaths than the US, which now has the world’s largest outbreak with more than 216,000 confirmed cases and at least 4,800 deaths.
‘Little bit light’
Trump told a daily briefing by his coronavirus taskforce that he had not received an intelligence report on China’s data, but added: “The numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side – and I am being nice when I say that – relative to what we witnessed and what was reported.”
Trump said he had discussed how China dealt with the coronavirus outbreak in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last Friday, but “not so much the numbers”. The US president has toned down his criticism of China’s handling of the virus outbreak since the call.
“As to whether or not their numbers are accurate,” he added, “I am not an accountant from China.”
No way to confirm
Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said Washington was “just not [in] the position to confirm any of the numbers that are coming out of China”.
“There’s lots of public reporting on whether the numbers are too low,” he said. “You got access to those reports that are coming out of Chinese social media … we just have no way to confirm any of those numbers.”
Earlier, Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, accused Beijing of hiding the true number of those affected. He said he called for the State Department to investigate Beijing’s “initial cover up and subsequent actions regarding this pandemic”.
The Bloomberg report cited unidentified US officials as saying a classified report, received by the White House last week, concluded that China’s public reporting on cases and deaths was intentionally incomplete.
China reported dwindling new infections on Wednesday and for the first time disclosed the number of cases of people who have the highly contagious disease but do not show symptoms.
A Chinese county of about 600,000 residents went into lockdown after a woman who visited the area tested positive for the coronavirus, underscoring concerns over a second wave of domestic infections.
The tightening comes as China reported 35 new confirmed cases on Thursday, drastically down from the peak of the crisis.
But they were all imported, bringing the tally of such cases to 841 and adding to fears about infections brought in from overseas.
Jia county in central Henan province said in a social media post on Wednesday it was tightening restrictions on villages and residential compounds and was not allowing people to enter or leave their homes without the relevant authorisation.
Although new cases have dwindled in China and its central Hubei province at the epicentre of the outbreak, concerns have been growing over a new wave of infections from overseas or asymptomatic carriers.
The country has in recent weeks started publishing data on a growing number of imported cases – mostly returning Chinese nationals – and on Wednesday started releasing figures on asymptomatic cases.