By Javier García

Beijing, Mar 18 (EFE).- China announced Wednesday that it had begun clinical human trials of a new coronavirus vaccine "successfully" developed by the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences, although its mass production was still months away.

Just 19 hours after Washington announced it had started human trials for a Covid-19 vaccine, Beijing authorities unveiled their own tests and insisted they would produce the immunization quicker than the United States, according to the Global Times.

The media outlet, which falls under the umbrella of the People's Daily, the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party, warned that the vaccine would not be available to the general public for at least another 12 to 18 months.

It was nonetheless the first vaccine - of the many that have been researched - to go to the clinical trial stage of testing since Monday.

It is the product of a military science investigation led by top epidemiologist and general Chen Wei, who traveled to Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, to research in collaboration with biotech company CanSino Biologics.

Chen is known in China for his work in 2014 developing the first vaccine in Asia - and the third in the world - against the Ebola virus.

According to Chinese media commentary, members of the military have the advantage in the search for a vaccine given they are not constrained by the same regulation as private companies.

"The epidemic is similar to a military situation. The epicenter is like the battleground," Chen told the local press.

Chen and his team installed themselves at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the only center with level 4 biotechnology security clearance, the highest in Asia.

The vaccine has been submitted to safety and quality controls and is being prepared for mass production, a defense ministry statement said.

CanSino Biologics, based in the city of Tianjin, organized the volunteers for the clinical trial.

Imported Covid-19 cases continued to outstrip domestically-contracted cases in China for the fifth day in a row.

Officials on Wednesday reported 13 new infections, 12 of which had been brought into the country from other global hotspots.

As things stand, there have been 80,894 confirmed cases in China since the outbreak began. Some 11 died from Covid-19 Wednesday - all of them in central Hubei province - bringing the number of fatalities to 3,237, according to the National Health Commission.

Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, which has been in full lockdown since 23 January, is the worst-hit region in the world with 2,490 deaths. However, for the last two days, it has registered just one new infection - the only one transmitted locally in the entire country.

Until now, 69,601 people have recovered from the disease in China.

Earlier, Zhong Nanshan, the epidemiologist and pulmonologist leading the fight against coronavirus in China urged Europe to adopt more proactive measures, identify infections faster and to impose strict quarantines and restrictions.

"I believe Europe is facing the first round of the epidemic. I think they should take more proactive measures. Don't wait until it is very late and it hurts," Zhong said at a press conference in the southern city of Guangzhou.

China also announced Wednesday that it would expel US correspondents from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post a move that Beijing said had been carried out in the "spirit of reciprocity."

Those journalists will no longer be allowed to work in China, Hong Kong or Macau in a measure adopted not long after Washington ordered a reduction in the size of Chinese media outlets in the US. EFE

© 2020 EFE News Services (U.S.) Inc., source EFE Ingles