April 20, 2020 / 7:50 AM / 3 months ago

China rejects Australia's questions on its handling of coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang takes a question from a journalist during the daily press briefing of the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, China, March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BEIJING (Reuters) - China dismissed as groundless on Monday Australia’s questioning of how Beijing handled the coronavirus pandemic, saying it had been open and transparent, despite growing scepticism about the accuracy of its official death toll.

Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, called for an international investigation into the origins and spread of the virus, joining a chorus of concern over how China tackled the virus that emerged in its central city of Wuhan last year.

Since then the virus has caused nearly 2.4 million infections and more than 160,000 deaths worldwide, paralysing life and business in major cities.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said Payne’s remarks were “entirely without factual basis,” adding that questioning China’s transparency was unfounded and showed a lack of respect for the sacrifices of its people.

“China expresses deep concern and resolute opposition to this,” Geng Shuang told reporters during a daily briefing.

Australia’s call comes amid rising criticism in recent weeks from the United States, including President Donald Trump, who said on Saturday that China should face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the pandemic.

On Monday, China’s National Health Commission reported 12 new infections, taking the mainland’s tally to 82,747, while the death toll stood unchanged at 4,632.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Writing by Se Young Lee, Editing by Catherine Evans and Clarence Fernandez

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