China denounced as "rumours and lies" the reports of a much higher death toll and infected cases in the coronavirus outbreak that it said has killed 636 people as the authorities finished work on a second hospital to treat thousands of patients suffering from the disease.
Overall 636 people have died in China due to the virus on Thursday and 31,161 confirmed cases have been reported from 31 provincial-level regions, the National Health Commission reported.
As many as 73 people died on Thursday due to the virus and the new confirmed cases of the epidemic went up by 3,143, it added.
Chinese officials said 19 foreign nationals living in the country have been confirmed of contracting the novel coronavirus as of Thursday, but did not disclose their nationalities.
China also said that it has lodged diplomatic protests with countries whose airlines have cancelled flights to Chinese cities alleging that they are spreading panic in the wake of deadly coronavirus.
Seventy of the deaths reported on Wednesday were from Hubei province and its capital Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak, where China is building a large number of hospitals at frantic pace including converting stadiums, auditoriums and schools into hospitals to cope up with the cases.
China on Thursday opened a new 1,500-bed makeshift hospital especially built for virus patients days after a 1,000-bed hospital started functioning with prefabricated wards and isolation rooms in Wuhan.
Chinese officials argue that the death toll and confirmed cases are rising in Hubei province because of lack of enough hospitals and beds.
State-run China Global Television Network, or CGTN, showed new tent hospitals coming up in the city to treat patients besides a host of mobile clinics.
Meanwhile, China vehemently denied a Taiwan media report that Beijing is under-reporting the death toll and infected cases from the virus outbreak.
Tencent, which runs popular social media APP weChat, over the weekend seems to have "inadvertently released what is potentially the actual number of infections and deaths, which were astronomically higher than the official figures," Taiwan News reported.
"On late Saturday evening, the Tencent webpage showed confirmed cases of the Wuhan virus in China as standing at 154,023, ten times the official figure at the time...Most ominously, the death toll listed was 24,589, vastly higher than the 300 officially listed that day," the report claimed.
When asked to comment on the report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a media briefing online on Thursday that "we have noted some rumours and lies on this epidemic, which are worse than the virus itself".
"You may have noted that even WHO Director-General has repeatedly called on people to not believe in rumours or spreading them. In some countries, relevant departments have been stepping up efforts to bring to justice to those creating and spreading rumours," she said.
China is acting with openness, transparency and a high sense of responsibility, Hua said, adding that the government has been sharing information in a timely manner, enhancing international cooperation.
"The National Health Commission and the Wuhan health authorities hold daily briefings to keep the public updated. China's openness, transparency and high sense of responsibility, and its decisive and effective measures have been recognised by the international community," she said.
"As some countries have taken such excessive steps as suspending flights, ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) has also issued bulletins and encouraged all countries to follow WHO recommendations," she said.
"We deplore and oppose those countries who went against WHO's professional recommendations and ICAO's bulletins and have lodged stern representations with them," she said.
Several international airlines, including Air India and IndiGo, have cancelled flights to China over fears of the virus spreading across the world, a move which Beijing described against the WHO guidelines.
Several countries including India and the US have also announced travel bans.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China has taken effective measures to minimise the possibility of virus spreading in airplanes and to ensure travellers' safety and health on international flights, she said.
"We hope all countries can assess the epidemic situation and China's efforts in a calm, objective and rational manner and do not overreact," she said and urged countries not to restrict the flights.
China also sent an advisory to Beijing-based foreign correspondents asking them to take precautions against the virus and urged them not to travel, specially Hubei province and advised 14-day quarantine if they visited Wuhan.
"Proper self-protection is essential, and avoidance of travelling to Hubei province during this period is earnestly advised," the advisory said.
Hua said China attaches high importance to addressing the concerns and demands of foreign nationals in China, especially those in Wuhan.
"We have strengthened the protection and assistance for foreign citizens Many foreign nationals in China highly appreciate China's relevant measures. China will continue caring for foreign nationals in our country as our own and guarantee their working and living conditions," she said.