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 World Health Organization has requested more data from China regarding respiratory diseases spreading in the northern part of the country. However, Beijing did not make any public comments on Thursday.

The WHO stated that there has been an increase in the rate of “respiratory diseases like influenza” in northern China over the past three years, compared to the same period in October.

The United Nations Health Agency issued a statement on Wednesday, stating, “WHO has officially requested detailed information from China on the increase in respiratory diseases and clusters of pneumonia in children.”

China’s National Health Commission had mentioned last week that the increase in respiratory diseases, including mycoplasma pneumonia affecting children, is due to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the spread of known infectious diseases like influenza and common bacterial infections.

State media reported that Beijing, the capital of the country located in the northern part, is currently experiencing a sharp drop in temperatures, and it is expected to go significantly below freezing by Friday.

Wang Kwang-yi, Deputy Director and Chief Epidemiologist at the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention, informed state media, “The city has entered a period of high incidence of infectious respiratory diseases.”

He said, “Beijing is currently showing a trend of coexistence of several infectious diseases.”

The WHO did not provide any indication of China’s response to the request for more information.

China’s National Health Commission did not respond to the AFP’s request for comments on Thursday.

And Mao Ning, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, referred to journalists as “competent Chinese officials.”

Due to the seasonal changes, journalists from AFP wearing winter clothes were seen at the Children’s Hospital of the Beijing Capital Institute of Pediatrics on Thursday, where parents and children were observed wearing winter coats.

A parent named Zhang, accompanying his nine-year-old son, stated that they were coughing, and he mentioned that his son had contracted mycoplasma pneumonia, a respiratory infection that can cause throat irritation, fatigue, and fever.

He said, “Indeed, there are many children who have recently caught it. Of course, I am worried!”

42-year-old Li Meiling, who brought her eight-year-old daughter, said she was suffering from the same type of pneumonia.

She told AFP, “It is true that many children of her age are currently ill with it.”

However, she was not particularly concerned about the WHO’s announcement, saying, “It’s cold, so it’s normal that there are more respiratory diseases. It’s because of the weather.”

On November 21, the Media and Public Health Surveillance System Promed reported information about groups of unknown pneumonia in children in northern China.

The WHO stated that it is unclear whether Promed’s report was related to officials’ press conferences and sought clarification.

The agency said in a statement, “Additional information has been requested on recent trends in the spread of known infectious diseases, including influenza, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), RSV affecting infants, and mycoplasma pneumonia.”

It also urged preventive measures, including vaccination, maintaining distance from sick individuals, and wearing masks to control the degree of crowding in the healthcare system.

Call for Transparency

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO repeatedly criticized Chinese officials for a lack of transparency and cooperation.

Even after more than three years since the first cases emerged in Wuhan, the origin of COVID-19 is still a hotly debated topic.

Scientists are divided between two main theories: one involving an escape from a laboratory in the city where research on such viruses was being conducted, and the other involving an intermediate animal that infected people in a local market.

At the beginning of this year, WHO experts, led by a team of specialists with Chinese collaborators, conducted an investigation in China, but the team has not returned since then, and WHO officials have repeatedly asked for additional data.

WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized that going to the root of the mystery could help prevent future pandemics.

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