Chinese officials claim that Kazakhstan is experiencing an outbreak of “unknown pneumonia” potentially deadlier than COVID-19 — though authorities in the Central Asian country later denied the outbreak is new or unknown, according to a report.
The Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan on Thursday informed its citizens that the illness had killed more than 1,700 people, CNN reported.
“Kazakhstani Health Department and other agencies are conducting comparative research and have not defined the nature of the pneumonia virus,” the embassy said in a statement.
It said new cases of the mystery ailment have spiked considerably across Kazakhstan since mid-June, adding that in some places, officials report hundreds of new cases each day, according to the network.
But the Kazakhstan health ministry on Friday denied that the outbreak was new or unknown, acknowledging only the presence of “viral pneumonias of unspecified etiology.”
“In response to these reports, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan officially declares that this information does not correspond to reality,” the statement says, CNN reported.
The ministry added that the “unspecified” classification followed World Health Organization guidelines “for the registration of pneumonia when the coronavirus infection is diagnosed clinically or epidemiologically but is not confirmed by laboratory testing.”
The Chinese embassy said the cases were concentrated in the regions of Atyrau, Aktobe and Shymkent, where almost 500 people have been sickened, with more than 30 being critically ill, according to the report.
The illness has claimed 1,772 lives this year, some of whom were Chinese, according to the embassy. A total of 628 of the deaths took place in June.
“This disease is much deadlier than COVID-19,” the statement said.
The embassy warned Chinese residents living in the region to limit how much they venture outside and to avoid crowded public areas. It also urged them to wear masks, disinfect spaces and wash hands frequently.
When asked Friday about the outbreak, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told journalists that Beijing is seeking more information.
“China hopes to work together with Kazakhstan to fight the epidemic and to safeguard the two countries public health security,” he said.
The Kazakhstan Health Ministry said in a statement that Minister Aleksey Tsoy had addressed a number of pneumonia cases across the country during a briefing Thursday.
The cases included various kinds of bacterial, fungal and viral pneumonia, including some of “unspecified etiology.”
Tsoy said all registered cases of pneumonia in Kazakhstan rose by more than 300 percent in June compared to the same month in 2019 — from 7,964 last year to 32,724 in 2020.
Related deaths rose by 129 percent — from 274 in June 2019 to 628 in the same month in 2020.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan continues to battle a rise in coronavirus cases — with 53,021 infections and 264 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.