Story at a glance

  • Chinese officials claimed the mortality rate of the disease is higher than COVID-19.
  • Kazakhstan said China misinterpreted statistics about suspected COVID-19 cases.
  • Officials in Kazakhstan said the claims were not consistent with reality.

Officials in Kazakhstan are denying claims from Chinese officials that an unknown pneumonia with a mortality rate much higher than the coronavirus is sweeping through the country. 

The Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan on Thursday warned Chinese citizens in the country that cases of the alleged unidentified pneumonia have been increasing across the Central Asian nation since June, according to CNN. 


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“In the first half of this year, 1,772 have died of pneumonia in Kazakhstan and 628 died in June alone, including Chinese citizens,” the Chinese embassy said


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“That mortality rate of that disease is far higher than COVID-19 and Kazakhstan authorities are conducting a comparative study of the virus and there is no clear definition yet.” 

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The Chinese embassy said the cases were concentrated in regions of Atyrau, Aktobe and Shymkent, which together have nearly 500 new cases and more than 30 who are critically ill. The embassy warned Chinese residents to limit how much they go outside, avoid crowded public areas and wear masks. 

On Friday, Kazakhstan’s health ministry in a statement denied the outbreak was new or unknown, acknowledging only the presence of “viral pneumonias of unspecified etiology.”

“The Ministry of Healthcare of the Republic of Kazakhstan officially declares that this information IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH REALITY,” the statement read. The statement included an image that branded a story about the embassy’s warning as “FAKE NEWS.”

Hours later the embassy reportedly edited its message, removing the words “new pneumonia” and “unknown.”

Kazakhstan said China had misinterpreted its statistics, characterizing suspected, but unconfirmed, coronavirus deaths as being the result of an unknown pneumonia.

The ministry said the “unspecified” pneumonia classification followed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines “for the registration of pneumonia when the coronavirus infection is diagnosed clinically or epidemiologically but is not confirmed by laboratory testing,” CNN reports. 

The health ministry said Minister Alekey Tsoy discussed a number of pneumonia cases across the country during a briefing Thursday. The cases included different types of bacterial, fungal and viral pneumonia, including some of “unspecified etiology.”

Tsoy said registered cases of pneumonia in the country increased by 300 percent in June compared to the same time in 2019. Related deaths rose by 129 percent from 274 in June 2019 to 628 last month, CNN reports. 

A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday the country is looking into the situation. 

“China hopes to work together with Kazakhstan to fight the epidemic and to safeguard the two countries public health security,” the spokesperson said according to CNN. 

The report comes as Kazakhstan has confirmed more than 54,000 coronavirus cases and 264 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The country recently implemented nationwide lockdown orders following a rise in cases.


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Published on Jul 10, 2020