WHO advisers call for 'realistic' Chinese COVID data

STORY: China played down the severity of a surge of COVID-19 infections as the World Health Organization urged the country to regularly share specific and real-time information on the outbreak.

Leading scientists advising the WHO said they wanted a "more realistic picture" about the COVID-19 situation from China's top experts, who are invited to a virtual closed meeting with its technical advisory group on Tuesday, to present data on which variants are circulating in the country.

It is not open to the public or media.

China's abrupt U-turn on COVID controls on December 7, as well as the accuracy of its case and mortality data, have come under increasing scrutiny at home and abroad.

Some countries, including the United States and France will require COVID tests on travelers from China.

China's foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning labeled these travel entry curbs as "simply unreasonable", saying that they "lack scientific basis."

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

On Tuesday, the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper, cited Chinese experts as saying the illness caused by the virus was relatively mild for most people.

But as the virus spreads unchecked, funeral parlors have reported a spike in demand for their services.

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

International health experts predict there will be at least one million deaths in China this year.

Hospitals are also packed with patients.

This emergencies area in a Shanghai hospital was filled on Tuesday (January 3), with long queues of patients waiting to be seen.

As Chinese workers and shoppers fall ill, concerns mount about the near-term growth prospects in the world's second-largest economy.

Expectations for the tourism industry are high for China's biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, which begins on January 21 this year.

Some experts predict infections will have peaked in many places.