Kazakhstan Scolds China for Spreading ‘Incorrect’ Rumors of Novel Lung Disease

People wearing face masks stand in a line outside a pharmacy in Almaty on June 29, 2020. - Kazakhstan's president on June 29 criticised top officials for their coronavirus response and ordered the return of lockdown measures as the Central Asian country struggles to control a surge in infections. (Photo …
RUSLAN PRYANIKOV/AFP via Getty Images

An “unknown pneumonia” with a “much higher” fatality rate than the Chinese coronavirus is sweeping through Kazakhstan, the Chinese Embassy in Kazakhstan warned its citizens on Thursday, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece Global Times reported on Friday.

“The unknown pneumonia in Kazakhstan caused 1,772 deaths in the first six months of the year, including 628 people in June alone, including Chinese citizens,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement through its WeChat (Chinese social media) platform.

“The fatality rate of the disease is much higher than coronavirus, and organizations including Kazakhstan’s health department are studying the ‘virus of this pneumonia,'” the embassy said, claiming to quote Kazakh media.

The Global Times article said that “there hasn’t been any indication [of] whether this [‘unknown pneumonia’] disease is related to the coronavirus.” The article stated that “some Chinese experts said that measures should be taken to prevent the pneumonia from spreading into China. Kazakhstan borders Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.”

Xinjiang is home to ethnic Uyghur minority groups, long persecuted by the CCP. In recent months, the Communist Party has used the coronavirus pandemic to further its subjugation of the mainly Muslim Uyghurs. In April, reports indicated the CCP was shipping Uyghurs from Xinjiang to other Chinese provinces to provide “slave labor” in factories amid worker shortages caused by the pandemic.

According to the Global Times, at press time on Friday, over “370 million netizens [had] read posts with the hashtag “pneumonia of unknown cause reported in Kazakhstan” on China’s Sina Weibo [microblogging website] … Some were concerned the unknown pneumonia may affect Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which shares the border with Kazakhstan.”

Kazakhstan in January suspended “all forms of passenger travel to and from neighboring China” and canceled all flights to mainland China on February 3 in an effort to prevent the spread of Chinese coronavirus from China to Kazakhstan.

The Chinese Embassy in Kazakhstan urged Chinese citizens on Thursday to “raise their awareness of measures to prevent the spread of the [new ‘unknown pneumonia’].” Quoting Kazakh media, the embassy said, “Since mid-June, almost 500 people have been infected with the [‘unknown’] pneumonia in three regions of Kazakhstan.”

According to the Global Times, Kazakh news agency Kazinform reported that the new mysterious pneumonia has so far infected “two to three times” more people in Kazakhstan than the Chinese coronavirus:

Kazakhstan’s healthcare minister said on Wednesday that the number of patients sickened by the [‘unknown’] pneumonia is two to three times more than those who have been infected with [Chinese] coronavirus. The minister said that it plans to publish accurate tallies of confirmed cases as early as next week, noting that while it’s not necessary to publish the number, the public needs to know the true situation. According to official data, the number of pneumonia cases is 2.2 times greater this June than it was in 2019 when there were 1,700 cases.

At press time on Friday, Kazakhstan reported a total of 51,747 cases and 264 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.

“The COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] situation in Kazakhstan is under control,” Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement to the Global Times on Thursday. At the time, the ministry declined the CCP newspaper’s request for comment on the Chinese Embassy’s warning of a new “unknown pneumonia.”

However, on Friday, Kazakhstan’s health ministry issued a statement through its Facebook account rejecting the Chinese Embassy’s claims of a new “unknown pneumonia” deadlier than coronavirus in Kazakhstan. the ministry said that “the information given by the Chinese Embassy was ‘incorrect'” and “a misunderstanding of the official count,” according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

“At a briefing on Thursday, [Kazakhstan’s] Minister of Health Alexei Tsoi spoke about pneumonia in the country as a whole: bacterial, fungal, viral origin, including ‘viral pneumonia, unspecified etiology’ according to the ICD-10 classification,” the Kazakh health ministry said. “ICD-10” refers to the International Classification of Diseases.

As the SCMP noted:

The [Kazakhstan] health ministry said [at a press briefing on Thursday that] the official tally included pneumonia caused by all kinds of pathogens, including bacteria and virus. All of the cases showed clinical symptoms of abnormal imaging regardless of their laboratory results. It did not specify how many of the pneumonia cases which did not test positive in a swab test were ‘probable cases’ of … coronavirus. It also did not say if any of the cases were caused by a new kind of pathogen.

In a statement to the SCMP on Friday, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) said:

The ministry of health of Kazakhstan published a statement on July 10 clarifying that cases presenting with pneumonia are diagnosed according to ICD-10. This suggests they do not classify as emerging unknown disease. We are in the process of verifying with the ministry the Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] confirmed cases.

“There are a wide range of potential explanations for pneumonia, of which one is Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus], which we know is circulating in Kazakhstan,” the W.H.O. added in its statement.

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