• Last week's conversation between the leaders of the two countries has been followed up with a promise of cooperation from health officials
  • Call between China's health minister and his US counterpart is their first telephone exchange since January
An emergency field hospital is set up in New York’s Central Park to treat patients with Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. Photo: AFP

As the coronavirus death toll surges in the United States, Chinese and US health officials have pledged to work together to combat the pandemic, in their first telephone exchange in two months.

According to China's National Health Commission website, the phone call between its minister Ma Xiaowei and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar took place on Monday night and included an assurance from Ma that China was willing to work with the US in managing the outbreak.

It was the first move towards medical cooperation between the two countries after last week's phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump, when both leaders agreed they must work together to contain the spread of the virus.

China's Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei at a news conference in Beijing during the country's battle with the epidemic. Photo: Reuters

On Monday, Trump said the United States had received medical supplies from Russia and China. "China sent us some stuff, which was terrific. Russia sent us a very, very large planeload of things, medical equipment which was very nice," Trump told reporters.

"Other countries sent us things that I was very surprised at, very happily surprised."

Ma said the situation in China was continuing to improve, with the country's health service returning to normal operations. He also said the two countries had maintained their long-standing cooperation and that China was willing to work with the US in sharing information, experience and technology in fighting the outbreak.

"China is willing to work with the international community, including the US, with an open, transparent and responsible attitude," he said.

Azar was quoted on the website praising China's efforts and progress in fighting the disease, and saying that the US hoped to strengthen cooperation with China.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in the White House's Rose Garden. Photo: AP

The last reported telephone exchange between the pair was on January 28, before the two countries became embroiled in a bitter row over the origin of the new coronavirus and China's handling of the outbreak, first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

Officials from both countries have been contesting the origin of the virus, with Chinese diplomats sharing conspiracy theories that the US military was responsible and Trump describing it as the "Chinese virus".

US officials have also said they are frustrated with China's reluctance to work with them, a claim Beijing has rejected, pointing to the American experts who visited China as part of the World Health Organisation team investigating the outbreak.

As the world's two major powers have bickered, the pandemic has been spreading across the world. The US has surpassed China and Italy to become the country with the most confirmed cases, at more than 160,000, and more than 3,000 deaths.

As of Monday, there were 48 new infections reported in mainland China " all of them imported, according to the National Health Commission " bringing total infections to 81,518. The virus has killed 3,305 people on the mainland, but 76,052 patients have recovered.

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