China's new outbreak wanes as US calls for answers on virus
People wear face masks as they leave a train at the central train station in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, June 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
A new coronavirus outbreak in Beijing saw a decline in daily cases Thursday 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 criticizing 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 politicized 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.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was hospitalized with COVID-19 and pneumonia as the country struggles under the pandemic's strain and cases rise sharply in the capital. Mexico's cases continued to increase at near-record levels with few signs of a decrease, even as the economy starts reopening.
More than a week after New Zealand declared itself virus-free, the country has confirmed three new cases.
The South Pacific country appears to have eliminated community transmission of the virus, but officials confirmed a man arriving from Pakistan tested positive after earlier confirming cases in two women returning from Britain.
While air travel is a concern about transmission of the virus as economies reopen, two Australian universities are planning a charter flight for likely the first foreign students to return to Australian campuses.
Australian National University and Canberra University expect to fly 350 students from Singapore in late July.
The students would go into hotel quarantine on arrival.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison supported the universities' plan, which would be a pilot program for reopening Australia's lucrative education sector.
"I'm looking to get our economy as close as back to normal as we possibly can and to push the envelope in every possible area," Morrison told reporters.
But China, which is Australia's largest source of foreign students, providing 200,000 last year, has warned its citizens to stay away from the country because of the risk of pandemic-related racism.
China opposes Australia's calls for an independent investigation into the origins of and responses to the pandemic.