Kazakhstan authorities denied reports published by Chinese officials claiming that the country is experiencing an outbreak of “unknown pneumonia” potentially deadlier than the novel coronavirus.
The Chinese Embassy in Kazakhstan issued a warning to citizens living in the Central Asian country On Thursday claiming that the pneumonia had killed more than 1,700 people.
“Kazakhstani Health Department and other agencies are conducting comparative research and have not defined the nature of the pneumonia virus,” the statement said.
New cases of the unidentified pneumonia have been increasing significantly since mid-June across the country, said the embassy, adding that in some places, authorities are reporting hundreds of new cases a day.
In a statement on Friday, the Kazakhstan health ministry acknowledged the presence of “viral pneumonias of unspecified etiology,” but denied that the outbreak was new or unknown.
“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 read.
It added the “unspecified” pneumonia 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.”
According to the embassy, the rise was concentrated in the regions of Atyrau, Aktobe and Shymkent, which together have almost 500 new cases and more than 30 critically ill patients.
The disease killed 1,772 people this year, some of whom were Chinese citizens, according to the embassy. A total of 628 of those deaths took place in June alone. “This disease is much deadlier than Covid-19,” the statement read.
The number of pneumonia cases in the capital city Nursultan has more than doubled this June from the same time last year, according to Kazakhstan’s prominent news agency Kazinform.
“Up to 200 people are admitted to hospitals every day. Over the last few days some 300 people diagnosed with pneumonia were taken to hospitals a day. Besides some receive treatment at home,” said the head of the Nursultan healthcare department.
The Chinese embassy warned residents in the region to limit how much they went outside, and to avoid crowded public areas. It also encouraged preventative measures like wearing a mask, disinfecting spaces, washing hands frequently, and allowing good air circulation in indoor spaces.
The embassy warning came as Kazakhstan continues to battle a rise in Covid-19, which has infected 53,021 people and killed 264 in the country.