BEIJING: China has handled the new coronavirus outbreak in a transparent and "highly responsible" way, the country's UN ambassador said Wednesday (Feb 13), after criticism that local authorities did not react quickly enough.
Since its emergence in the central province of Hubei in December, the COVID-19 virus has killed more than 1,350 people and infected tens of thousands.
There have been more than 500 infections in almost 30 countries and territories outside mainland China, including two deaths.
"Facing the epidemic, we have always adopted an open, transparent and highly responsible attitude," Beijing's United Nations ambassador Zhang Jun told the UN Commission for Social Development.
"We have reported the epidemic information to the WHO, the relevant countries, and Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan regions as soon as it is available, shared the genetic sequences of the virus, actively communicated with other countries in order to come up with responses," he said.
Most of the cases have been in Hubei, where about 56 million people have been placed under virtual quarantine. Authorities have restricted the movements of people in several other cities far from the epicentre in an unprecedented containment effort.
"Not only for the sake of China, but also the world, we have adopted rigorous prevention and control measures ... effectively curbing the spread of the epidemic," Zhang said.
China drew international condemnation for covering up cases during the 2002-03 SARS outbreak, whereas the World Health Organization has praised measures taken by Beijing to combat COVID-19.
But anger erupted in China this month after the death of a doctor in Wuhan, the Hubei provincial capital and virus epicentre, whom police silenced when he flagged the emerging virus in December.
Local authorities in Hubei and Wuhan had already faced rare, uncensored criticism online for initially downplaying the magnitude of the outbreak.
Critics say precious time was lost by the early inaction of the local government.
Hubei and Wuhan officials held important political meetings in the first weeks of January. The death toll and number of cases only began to soar afterwards, going from one fatality on Jan 11 to more than 630 barely four weeks later.
"Addressing global public health issues is a common challenge faced by all countries," Zhang said, calling for international cooperation.