Beijing (AFP) – The World Health Organization has asked China for more data on a respiratory illness spreading in the north of the country, urging people to take steps to reduce the risk of infection.
Northern China has reported an increase in “influenza-like illness” since mid-October when compared to the same period in the previous three years, the WHO said.
“WHO has made an official request to China for detailed information on an increase in respiratory illnesses and reported clusters of pneumonia in children,” the UN health body said in a statement on Wednesday.
China’s National Health Commission told reporters last week that the respiratory illness spike was due to the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions and the circulation of known pathogens, namely influenza and common bacterial infections that affect children, including mycoplasma pneumonia.
The Chinese capital of Beijing, located in the north of the country, is currently experiencing a cold snap, with temperatures expected to plummet to well below zero by Friday, state media said.
Temperatures plummeted as the city “entered a high incidence season of respiratory infectious diseases”, Wang Quanyi, deputy director and chief epidemiological expert at the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state media on Wednesday.
Beijing “is currently showing a trend of multiple pathogens coexisting”, he added.
Calls for transparency
Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the WHO repeatedly criticised Chinese authorities for their lack of transparency and cooperation.
More than three years after cases were first detected in Wuhan, heated debate still rages around the origins of Covid-19.
Scientists are divided between two main theories of the cause: an escape from a laboratory in the city where such viruses were being studied and an intermediate animal that infected people at a local market.
Earlier this year, WHO experts said they were sure that Beijing had far more data that could shed light on the origins of Covid, and called it a moral imperative for the information to be shared.
A team of specialists led by the WHO and accompanied by Chinese colleagues investigated China in early 2021, but there has not been a team able to return since and WHO officials have repeatedly asked for additional data.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has stressed that getting to the bottom of the mystery could help avert future pandemics.