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Bengaluru: An “unknown pneumonia” with a “much higher” fatality rate than Covid-19 is in transmission in Kazakhstan, China Thursday warned its citizens who are currently in the central Asian country. But the Kazakh authorities have denied this claim.

In a statement on its WeChat platform, the Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan reportedly said the “unknown pneumonia… caused 1,772 deaths in the first six months of the year, including 628 people in June alone”. The statement cited Kazakh media reports, adding that there were Chinese victims in the fatality count.

A Chinese daily Global Times report detailed the statement, adding that it said the Kazakh health department is “studying” the virus that causes this pneumonia.

According to the report, Chinese experts have issued a call to raise awareness and measures to prevent this virus from entering China. The two countries share a border and allow for free trade across the country lines. But all cross-border buses and international flights are currently suspended in Kazakhstan due to the Covid crisis.

Also read: Aerosol transmission can’t be ruled out, but droplets still biggest risk, says new WHO brief

What the Kazakh healthcare ministry says

The Kazakhstan’s healthcare ministry dismissed the Chinese claim that the pneumonia outbreak is deadlier than Covid.

The ministry reportedly said the country has recorded over 32,000 cases of pneumonia between 29 June and 5 July, with 451 deaths, its count of bacterial, fungal and viral pneumonia infections were in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.

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“The information published by some Chinese media regarding a new kind of pneumonia in Kazakhstan is incorrect,” the ministry said.

On Wednesday, the Kazakh health minister was quoted as saying that the number of patients ill with pneumonia is twice to thrice the number ill with Covid, according to Kazakh news agency, Kazinform.

The pneumonia cases increased by 2.2 times in June compared to the same period in 2019, said the Kazinform report.

The pneumonia concern amid Covid crisis

Pneumonia is a condition of the lung where one or both lungs could get infected, leading to inflammation of air sacs. This then fill with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe normally. The condition can vary in seriousness from mild to life-threatening. It is most aggressive in children and those aged over 65, as well as those with compromised immune systems.

Symptoms of pneumonia typically are chest pain, cough with phlegm, fatigue, nausea, and shortness of breath.

Checking for patients admitted with signs of pneumonia or other breathing difficulties is a regular practice during tracing of Covid patients. The condition occurs commonly in symptomatic Covid patients, but can also be caused by other kinds of bacteria, fungi, or other pathogen.

As of now, it is unclear if the pneumonia surge in Kazakhstan is because of Covid-19 or caused by any other pathogen.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has reportedly said the current epidemiological situation is of great concern to all citizens. In a televised address, he said “We are in fact facing the second coronavirus wave coupled with a huge uptick in pneumonia cases.”

As of Friday, Kazakhstan has recorded nearly 55,000 Covid cases with over 250 deaths.

Also read: Plasma therapy — 11 trials underway, many Covid ‘cure’ stories but some doubts linger


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