China's new virus outbreak easing off

Ken Moritsugu
Chinese officials have report daily declines in the number of new COVID-19 cases, in Beijing

A new coronavirus outbreak in Beijing saw a decline in daily cases, while the United States increased pressure on China's leaders to reveal what they know about the pandemic.

The outbreak first detected at a wholesale market in the capital last week has infected at least 158 people in China's biggest resurgence since the initial outbreak was brought under control in March.

The city reported 21 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, down from 31 on Wednesday. City officials said close contacts of market workers, visitors and other connections were being traced to locate all possible cases as quickly as possible, with testing and prevention measures being taken.

At a meeting in Hawaii with a top Chinese diplomat, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged China to reveal all it knows about the pandemic.

Pompeo "stressed the need for full transparency and information sharing to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks," the US State Department said in a statement about his meeting with the Communist Party's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi.

Pompeo has joined President Donald Trump in criticising China's response to the outbreak, including giving credence to a theory that the virus may have emerged from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan.

The World Health Organization last month bowed to calls from most of its member states to investigate how it managed the response to the virus, but the evaluation would stop short of looking into the origins of the virus. China maintains that controlling the virus's spread should be given priority.

China is also being called on to relieve the virus' financial consequences in Africa.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed Chinese leader Xi Jinping during an online China-Africa summit. He reminded China that African nations are seeking significant debt relief as they battle the pandemic.

African nations have called for a two-year suspension of debt payments and other relief that would allow them to focus resources on the health crisis. But China, Africa's biggest creditor, has not indicated it will offer a sweeping solution and experts say it will focus instead on bilateral arrangements with countries.

Ramaphosa urged China to offer more relief or propose alternatives, warning that "the worst is still to come" for Africa in the pandemic.

Xi in his speech said he hopes the international community, "especially developed countries and multilateral financial institutions, will act more forcefully on debt relief and suspension for Africa."

The virus has infected more than 8.3 million people since it emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. More than 448,000 people have died from COVID-19, according to a Johns Hopkins tally of official data. Both numbers are believed to be deeply undercounted due to limited testing and other factors.

The United States has the most cases and deaths by far, with 2.1 million people infected and more than 117,000 dead. Americans have wrestled with deep emotional divides between those who support lockdowns and restrictions like wearing masks to stop the spread of the virus and those who believe such measures infringe on personal freedoms.

Other countries were confronting politicised debates and growing infections.

India recorded its highest one-day increase of 12,281 cases, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi rejected imposing a new lockdown, saying the country has to think about further unlocking the economy.

Turkish authorities made masks mandatory in three major cities following an uptick in cases since the country allowed the reopening of many businesses.