The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday (local time) that the “unknown pneumonia” reported in Kazakhstan could be COVID-19, CGTN News reported.
Michael Ryan, executive director of the Health Emergencies Program of the WHO, said at a regular briefing that the pneumonia outbreak in the Central Asian nation was “certainly on our radar,” and the WHO is working with local health authorities amid a rise in reported cases.
He also pointed out that there’s been a big surge in COVID-19 cases in the country, with over 10,000 confirmed over the last seven days.
The WHO is studying the quality of local testing conditions in case some pneumonia cases are in fact undiagnosed cases of COVID-19, Ryan said, adding that the WHO “keeps an open mind” to other possibilities.
“We are looking at the actual testing and the quality of the testing to make sure that there have not been false negative tests for some of those other pneumonia that are provisionally tested negative,” he said.
“That is likely to be a major cause of this. In many ways, many of these pneumonia cases will also be COVID-19. They just have not been diagnosed correctly,” Ryan added.
On Thursday, the Chinese Embassy in Kazakhstan issued a warning to citizens living in the Central Asian country 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,” said the statement cited by CNN.
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.
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.”
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, which cited official data.