China's latest COVID outbreak worst since March 2020

SHANGHAI / BEIJING (Reuters) - China battles worst COVID-19 outbreak since March 2020, with one province seeing record increases on a daily basis as an independent panel examining the global pandemic said China could have acted more forcefully on containment initial outbreak.
State-backed tabloid Global Times on Tuesday defended China's early handling of COVID-19, saying no country had experience dealing with the all-new virus.
"In retrospect, no country could be perfect against a novel virus ... no country can guarantee that it will not make mistakes if a similar epidemic occurs again," it said.
China reported more than 100 new COVID-19 cases on a seventh day on Tuesday. Mainland China released 118 new cases on Jan. 18, up from 109 the day before, the national health agency said in a statement.
Of those, 106 were local infections, of which 43 were reported in Jilin, a new daily record for the northeastern province, and 35 in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, the National Health Commission said.
The Chinese capital itself reported a new case, while Heilongjiang in the north reported 27 new infections.
Dozens of million people were locked down as some cities in the north underwent mass screening for coronavirus, fearing that undetected infections could spread quickly during the New Year holidays just weeks away.
Hundreds of millions of people are traveling during the holidays, which are slated to begin in mid-February this year, when migrant workers return home to visit their families.
Authorities have appealed to people not to travel in the run-up to vacation and to stay away from mass gatherings such as weddings.
The current Jilin outbreak was caused by an infected vendor traveling to and from neighboring Heilongjiang Province, which is home to a previous cluster of infections.
The total number of new asymptomatic cases that China does not classify as confirmed infections fell to 91 from 115 the day before.
The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland China is 89,454 while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635.
An independent group of experts examining the pandemic, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said Monday that Chinese officials could have taken stricter public health measures last January to address the issue contain the first outbreak.
She also criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for only declaring an international emergency on January 30th.
A WHO team is currently in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the disease was first discovered in late 2019, to investigate the causes of the pandemic that has killed millions of people around the world.
(Reporting by Emily Chow and Wang Jing in Shanghai and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Richard Pullin and Michael Perry)
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