China's incredible vaccine snub as Covid crisis spirals

The European Union has offered free Covid-19 vaccines to China, the EU executive said on Tuesday (local time), as infections surge in the country and global health authorities call on the country to be transparent about the toll the virus is taking.

China has been criticised for spurning western-made mRNA vaccines that offer better protection in favour for Chinese-made vaccines. But despite the disease ripping through the population after the Communist Party dropped its Covid-zero policy, the government shows no signs of reversing course.

Patients lie on beds in a waiting area in the emergency department of Zhongshan Hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai, China January 3, 2023. REUTERS/Staff
Patients lie on beds in a waiting area in the emergency department of Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai. Source: Reuters

China has not responded to the offer yet, a spokesperson for the European Commission told journalists at a regular briefing. He did not specify the amount of vaccines the EU was offering or their manufacturers.

"In view of the Covid situation in China, (Health) Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has reached out to her Chinese counterparts to offer EU solidarity and support," he said.

"This includes public health expertise as well as variant-adapted EU vaccine donations."

Asked whether Beijing would accept the EU offer, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning sidestepped a direct reply, telling Reuters that China's vaccination rate and treatment capacity continued to rise and its supplies were "adequate".

She said China was open to "strengthening solidarity and cooperation with the international community" to better meet its pandemic challenges, though it could "meet the demand of anyone who wants to be vaccinated".

China has so far insisted on using only Chinese-made vaccines - which are of the inactivated virus type and not based on the Western mRNA technology - for its own population.

A relative attends to a Covid patient at the emergency department of Suining Central Hospital in Suining, Sichuan province on NYE.
A relative attends to a Covid patient at the emergency department of Suining Central Hospital in Suining, Sichuan province on NYE. Source: Reuters

Chinese media downplays crisis as WHO demand data

State media in China played down the severity of a surge of Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, while its scientists briefed the World Health Organisation, which has been seeking detailed information about the evolution of the virus.

The global body had invited the scientists to present detailed data on viral sequencing at a technical advisory group meeting on Tuesday, and has asked China to share data on hospitalisations, deaths and vaccinations.

"We are willing to improve communication with the world," foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing.

"But ... we are firmly opposed to attempts to manipulate the epidemic prevention and control measures for political purposes."

China's foreign ministry labelled travel entry curbs imposed by some countries as "simply unreasonable", saying they "lacked scientific basis".

A woman wearing a protective mask and a face shield walks along in a shopping district as China returns to work despite continuing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreaks in Shanghai, China, January 3, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song
A woman wearing a protective mask and a face shield walks along in a shopping district in Shanghai. Source: Reuters

The WHO is expected to meet later this week, a spokesperson said, with the agency to have a "detailed discussion" about circulating variants in China, and globally.

As the virus spreads unchecked, funeral homes have reported a spike in demand for their services and international health experts predict at least one million deaths in China this year.

China reported three new Covid deaths for Monday, taking its official death toll since the pandemic began to 5,253.

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