Kazakhstan has denied a report published by Chinese officials alleging that the country was experiencing an epidemic of “unknown pneumonia”.
The Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan warned its citizens in the country on Thursday that “pneumonia” is potentially more deadly than Covid-19.
Kazakhstan’s health ministry said on Friday that the report was “not true.”
Kazakhstan recently reimposed a nationwide lockdown following an increase in coronavirus cases.
According to the Kazakhstan Ministry of Health, as of July 10, the country had registered around 55,000 cases and 264 deaths.
Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries have also been accused of underreporting large second waves of coronavirus infections by classifying many pneumonias.
The World Health Organization said on Friday that the pneumonia reported in Kazakhstan was “on its radar” and could be Covid-19.
“The upward trajectory of COVID-19 in the country suggests that many of these cases are in fact undiagnosed cases of COVID-19,” said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergency program.
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The statement released Thursday by the Chinese Embassy said 1,772 people died in the first half of 2020 and “628 in June only” following an epidemic of pneumonia.
He said the epidemic had taken hold in three provincial cities – Atyrau, Aktobe and Shymkent – and that Chinese nationals were among the dead.
In a statement released on Friday, the Kazakh Ministry of Health acknowledged the presence of “viral pneumonia of unspecified etiology” but said that the warning issued by the Chinese embassy “did not correspond to reality”.
The ministry admitted that he had classified coronavirus symptoms as pneumonia but the patients had a negative result, arguing that the practice was in accordance with guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Health Minister Aleksey Tsoy said on Thursday that pneumonia deaths had dropped from 1,172 in the first six months of 2019 to 1,780 over the same period this year. And the number of pneumonia cases registered increased by 50%, he said.
Doctors and family members of victims in Kazakhstan told BBC’s Abdujalil Abdurasulov that they believed the growing number of pneumonia cases were linked to the coronavirus, but were not being detected due to testing poor quality or no tests at all.
Venera Zhanalina, whose father died three days after being admitted to hospital with coronavirus-like symptoms, told the BBC: “The death certificate says that pneumonia is the cause. But we don’t even know if they tested it on the coronavirus. ”
Aida Jexen, 38, said she fell ill in late June, testing positive for coronavirus. But a week later, when she was receiving treatment at a hospital and retested, it was negative – leading to a diagnosis of pneumonia.
“I asked the doctors what the reason was. They replied that the first few days they had taken a nasal swab and the virus was still there, ”she said.
“Later, it went down into my lungs and to detect it, they had to take sputum samples. But they don’t sample sputum because they don’t want to worry about it. ”
A medical worker who asked to remain anonymous told the BBC that his coronavirus tests were negative twice. However, she had had several symptoms of the coronavirus and her computer tomography had shown obvious signs of the virus.
Because her tests were negative, she was diagnosed with pneumonia.
” They’re doing it [to lower the total coronavirus figures] because they don’t want to be in the first place for this disease, “she said. Changing statistics is much easier than fighting coronavirus. ”
But in a statement released Friday to the AFP news agency, WHO said that Kazakhstan classifies cases of pneumonia according to the organization’s codes.
“This suggests [the pneumonia cases] are not classified as an unknown emerging disease. We are in the process of verifying with the ministry the cases confirmed by Covid-19 “, indicates the WHO press release.
The WHO website refers to one of these codes “U07.2 COVID-19, unidentified virus”. This code is used in the event of a “clinical or epidemiological diagnosis of Covid-19 [but] when laboratory confirmation is inconclusive or not available. ”