China fury: Beijing denies cover-up as suspicions mount over coronavirus accusations

More than 2.4 million people across 210 countries have been infected by the novel coronavirus since it first emerged in China late last year, and over 170,000 have died. “China is not hiding anything,” Mr Lu told the French news channel BFM TV after M Macron said that things “happened that we don’t know about” in China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Lu, however, appeared to defend the French centrist, saying his words had been “distorted by the media”.

He said: “I don’t think that Mr Macron intended to accuse China. He was simply saying that France and China have taken different approaches to tackling the virus and that a comparison is therefore impossible.”

“There is no crisis between Paris and Beijing. Bilateral relations are as good as ever. The leaders of our two countries are in constant contact,” he insisted.

In an interview with the Financial Times published on Friday, M Macron dismissed the idea that China had handled the health crisis better than Western democracies as he expressed doubts about Beijing’s virus response.

The FT quoted him as saying there was no comparison between countries where information flowed freely and citizens could openly criticise their leaders and those where the truth was supressed.

“Given these differences, the choices made and what China is today, which I respect, let’s not be so naïve as to say it’s been much better at handling this. We don’t know. There are clearly things that happened that we don’t know about,” he said.

China has vehemently denied Western suggestions it has covered up the true extent of its coronavirus outbreak and also rejected US allegations it has an overly close relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

While admitting that the virus’ rapid spread had contributed to undercounting that resulted in China significantly raising its death toll last Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stressed “there has never been any concealment”.

Authorities in Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, abruptly raised the city’s death toll by 50 percent, fuelling rumours of a cover-up.

Officials cited several reasons for the missed cases, including that local medical staff were overwhelmed in the early days as infections soared, leading to “late reporting, omissions, or mis-reporting”.

Such miscounting is to be expected in the initial stages of a major disease outbreak, according to Mr Zhao.

He also said that US claims that the WHO is “China-centric” were an attempt at “smearing” Beijing.

US President Donald Trump has openly questioned China’s handling of the pandemic and whether it has been completely transparent.

Last week, his administration said it would halt its funding to the WHO because of its role in promoting China’s “disinformation”.

Britain has also expressed doubts about China’s virus response.

“There’s no doubt: we can’t have business as usual after this crisis, and we’ll have to ask the hard questions about how it came about and about how it could’ve been prevented,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said when asked about a possible future “reckoning” with China.

China has largely brought the contagion under control domestically via drastic measures including the unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and tens of millions of people in surrounding areas, but not before it spread across the globe.

At least 2.4 million people have tested positive for the flu-like virus across some 210 countries and territories and over 170,000 have died, according to an AFP tally.

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