By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – A lack of clear information from China in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic has put the whole world in a worse position, British Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said.

Javid, speaking ahead of a G7 health ministers’ conference Thursday to discuss pandemic preparedness, said better information sharing would help avoid a repeat of the COVID crisis. He suggested that China’s secrecy contributed to a slow global response.

“Had the world had more information early on about what’s happening in China, we would all be much better off today,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“If COVID had emerged in a European country or the United States and many other countries that are much more open and transparent, I think the global response would have been quicker.”

He said he supports in principle the establishment of a new G20 financial intermediary fund aimed at supporting pandemic preparedness in the future. But he wanted to see more information to make sure it was “very responsive to the needs of low- and middle-income countries.”

Britain has reported nearly 180,000 deaths with the third highest per capita death rate from the virus in the G7, behind the United States and Italy and that of Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The handling of the pandemic was criticized.

Critics say the government came too late with the lockdown. But it claims credit for a speedy introduction of vaccination. England was also one of the first countries to lift restrictions at home. The other home nations pursued their own policies.

In contrast, China and Hong Kong have adopted a zero-tolerance approach to the virus, a strategy that the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has called unsustainable given what is now known about the virus.

Javid said that while no country got it all right, the UK learned to focus on pharmaceutical defenses rather than societal restrictions and trying to live with COVID-19 after high vaccine intake was ultimately affirmed.

“It also shows what a complete fallacy this idea of ​​zero-COVID was for countries or places like Hong Kong and China,” he said. “It’s just not sustainable.”

China called WHO’s comments “irresponsible” and said its policies “put life first”. The embassy in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Johnson lifted the remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England in February after high levels of vaccination appeared to have prevented a surge in Omicron variant infections from leading to a sharp rise in deaths.

The government has said it aims to live with COVID by using booster shots and antivirals to protect vulnerable people, although critics say the government is not doing enough to support people with long COVID or who need protection .

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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