China passed 'extraordinary' virus test, says bullish Xi
China has passed "an extraordinary and historic test" with its handling of the coronavirus, President Xi Jinping said on Sept. 8 at a triumphant awards ceremony for medical professionals decorated with bugle calls and applause.
The nation's propaganda machine has churned out praise for China's COVID-19 response, reframing the public health crisis as an example of the agility and organisation of the Communist leadership.
Xi doled out gold medals to four "heroes" from the medical field in front of hundreds of applauding delegates on Sept. 8, all wearing face masks and strikingly large red flower pins.
"We have passed an extraordinary and historic test," Xi said, praising the country for a "heroic struggle" against the disease.
"We quickly achieved initial success in the people's war against the coronavirus. We are leading the world in economic recovery and in the fight against COVID-19."
China has come under intense global scrutiny over its response to the virus, with the United States and Australia leading accusations against Beijing that it covered up the origins and severity of the virus.
Sept. 8's lavish ceremony in the Great Hall of the People began with a minute's silence for those who lost their lives during the outbreak.
The four awardees included 83-year-old Zhong Nanshan - the country's most famous medical expert who emerged as the face of China's fight against the contagion.
He was awarded China's top national medal by Xi, who placed it around Zhong's neck.
"We will join hands with the... world's medical workers to continue the fight in tracing the origins of the virus," said Zhong.
Beijing has insisted the source of the virus - which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year - is still unknown.
Three others were given the honorary title of "The People's Hero" - biochemical expert Chen Wei, the head of a hospital in Wuhan, and a 72-year-old expert in traditional Chinese medicine.
Some delegates were in tears during a series of speeches.
There was no mention however of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, who was among the first to be silenced for raising the alarm about the outbreak and later died from the disease.
Before the ceremony, state broadcaster CCTV showed a video montage of Wuhan at the peak of the outbreak set to rousing music, including images of medical staff in hazmat suits and crowded hospitals.
According to official numbers there have been 4,634 deaths in China from COVID-19. The government has largely contained the outbreak through a serious of strict lockdowns and travel restrictions.
The pandemic has killed at least 890,086 people worldwide since surfacing in China late last year, according to an AFP count at 1800 GMT on Sept. 7 based on official sources.
The countries which have registered the most new deaths in their latest tolls are Ecuador with 3,800, India (1,016) and Brazil (447).
Europe is also seeing a spike in cases, notably in Britain, France -- and Spain, which passed the half million case mark on Sept. 7.
Italy's former premier Silvio Berlusconi appears to be improving after being hospitalized last week with coronavirus, his doctor Alberto Zangrillo says.
The 83-year-old media tycoon is being treated for a lung infection at San Raffaele hospital in Milan where he was admitted on Sept. 3 night.
The postponed Olympics will go ahead next year regardless of the coronavirus pandemic, IOC vice president John Coates tells AFP in an exclusive interview.
"It will take place with or without COVID. The Games will start on July 23 next year," says Coates, who heads the International Olympic Committee's Coordination Commission for the Tokyo Games.
The number of novel coronavirus cases in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip has risen tenfold over the past two weeks, bringing the total to over 1,000, Palestinian officials say.
And Libya reports more than 1,000 new infections, the highest tally for a single day since the conflict-ravaged country announced its first cases in late March.
All tennis players at the French Open from September 27-October 11 will be housed in two designated hotels "without exception" to reduce the risks from coronavirus.
Tournament director Guy Forget also announces that just 11,500 spectators a day will be admitted instead of the 20,000 they were originally hoping to accommodate.