Kazakhstan rejects Chinese warning over pneumonia outbreak
MOSCOW (AP) — Kazakhstan health officials on Friday dismissed a Chinese report that the Central Asian country is facing an outbreak of pneumonia that is more deadly than coronavirus.
The Kazakh denial follows a notice issued Thursday by the Chinese embassy that warned its citizens about an outbreak of pneumonia in the ex-Soviet nation that is producing a death rate higher than that from COVID-19-induced pneumonia.
“This information doesn’t conform to reality,” Kazakhstan’s Health Ministry said. It noted that the country’s statistics on pneumonia include patients who tested negative for coronavirus but had symptoms compatible with COVID-19.
According to official data, the number of pneumonia cases in Kazakhstan has increased 55% in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2019 — from 63,436 to 98,546.
However, Health Minister Alexei Tsoi said at a briefing Thursday that mortality from pneumonia this year fell from last year’s levels — from 1,780 deaths in the first half of 2019 to 1,172 in the first half of this year.
The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization, Dr. Michael Ryan, said Friday that many of the pneumonia cases in Kazakhstan were likely to be COVID-19 and “just have not been diagnosed correctly.”
Ryan said WHO was working with Kazakh authorities to review patients’ X-rays and look at the pattern of pneumonia cases to see if they were consistent with COVID-19.
The energy-rich Central Asian nation quickly introduced regional lockdown and travel restrictions to stem the coronavirus pandemic, but it has faced a rise in infections after it lifted the restrictions in May. The country so far has registered over 53,000 cases, including 264 deaths.
In late June, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev fired the nation’s health minister, blaming him for flaws that helped trigger what authorities are calling a second wave of contagion.
Kazakh authorities have imposed a new two-week nationwide lockdown starting Sunday to contain the outbreak.
Asked to respond to Kazakhstan’s denial of the Chinese embassy’s claim, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian refrained from comment, saying that Beijing hopes to receive more information.
“China looks forward to continuing cooperation with Kazakhstan to jointly fight the epidemic and safeguard public health in both countries,” he said.