An online forum between China and Japan organized to discuss cooperation on energy-saving and environmental protection has been postponed due to widespread COVID-19 infections in Beijing, organizers said Friday.

China's National Development and Reform Commission, an organizer of the event originally scheduled for Dec. 24, has requested the postponement, saying more than half of its staff either contracted the coronavirus or became close contacts of those infected, according to sources close to the matter.

Photo taken on Dec. 16, 2022, shows China's National Development and Reform Commission in Beijing. (Kyodo)

Since the Chinese government significantly relaxed its strict "zero-COVID" policy last week, major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai have seen the virus spread rapidly, although official data is no longer reflective of the reality on the ground as frequent PCR testing is no longer required.

"We are upset and angry about the sudden postponement, but cannot say anything as it was caused by the spread of the coronavirus and there appears to be confusion" in China, one of the sources said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi is considering visiting China later this month, according to diplomatic sources, but the rapid spread of the virus in Beijing could affect his travel plan.

The bilateral forum involving government officials and business representatives has been held almost annually since 2006, organized by the Chinese commission and the Commerce Ministry as well as Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the Japan-China Economic Association.

People line up for fever outpatient services at a gym in Beijing on Dec. 15, 2022, after China recently eased its "zero-COVID" policy. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

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