The number of new deaths in China’s central Hubei province from the coronavirus outbreak rose by 139 on Saturday, the province’s health commission said on its website on Sunday.
A further 1,843 cases had been detected in Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, said the commission, taking the total in the province to 56,249.
A top Chinese official acknowledged on Friday that the new coronavirus is a deep challenge to the country, but defended Beijing’s management of the epidemic while lashing out at the “overreaction” of other countries.
In a wide-ranging interview with Reuters in the German capital, State Councillor Wang Yi, who also serves as China’s foreign minister, urged the United States not to take unnecessary virus-response measures that could hamper trade, travel and tourism.
“The epidemic overall is under control,” he said. “This epidemic is truly sudden. It has brought a challenge to China and the world.”
“We’ve taken such complete prevention and control efforts, efforts that are so comprehensive, that I can’t see any other country that can do this,” Wang said, adding that any leader in another country would find the challenge very difficult.
“But China has been able to do this.”
The virus, coming on the back of a disruptive trade war between the United States and China, has again exposed underlying tensions on multiple fronts between the world’s two biggest economies.
It has also posed one of the toughest challenges for President Xi Jinping since he assumed power in 2013.
During the roughly 90-minute interview, on topics ranging from the coronavirus to Hong Kong, and the Middle East, Wang repeatedly pinned blame on Washington.
Beijing has criticized the United States in particular for taking drastic measures on coronavirus, which have included travel curbs on visitors from China. The United States was the first to announce it was evacuating citizens from Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the virus outbreak.
“Some countries have stepped up measures, including quarantine measures, which are reasonable and understandable, but for some countries they have overreacted, which has triggered unnecessary panic,” he said.
“I’m sure that those countries are reflecting on this as the situation evolves and the epidemic is gradually brought under further control,” he said. “They will gradually release such restrictions. Because at the end of the day, these countries need to interact with China.”
The US State Department and Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment, while the White House declined to comment.
Wang rejected the idea that China was not transparent enough in its initial handling of the outbreak. Top Communist Party officials in Wuhan and Hubei province, where the city is located, were sacked this week.
“From the beginning, we took a very open and transparent manner in releasing information to the international community’s cooperation on this effort,” he said, noting that fewer than 1% of global cases have been reported outside of China.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 64,000 people in China and killed more than 1,300.
“We’re not just defending the life, safety and health of Chinese citizens, but also making our contribution for global public health, and that should be recognized,” he said.
Beijing has urged countries to ease travel restrictions and resume flights after numerous airlines stopped flying to China.
“Only under the leadership of President Xi can we control this sudden epidemic, which has spread so quickly. This is not only to defend the health of the Chinese people, but also will prevent the rapid spread of this epidemic in the world,” he said.
“We have taken the most correct, the most rigorous and decisive measures to fight against the epidemic. Many measures went beyond international health regulations and the WHO recommendations,” Wang said.