The World Health Organization has accused China of ‘underrepresenting’ the severity of its Covid outbreak and criticized its ‘narrow’ definition of what constitutes a Covid death, as top global health officials urge Beijing to share more data on the explosive spread.
“We continue to call on China for faster, regular and reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive real-time viral sequencing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday. , during a press conference in Geneva.
“WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalization, serious illness and death,” it said. -he declares.
Speaking in more detail, WHO’s executive director for health emergencies, Mike Ryan, said current figures released by China “understate the true impact of the disease” in terms of hospital admissions. hospital and intensive care unit, as well as death.
He acknowledged that many countries have experienced delays in reporting hospital data, but pointed to China’s “narrow” definition of a Covid death as part of the issue.
The country only lists Covid patients who succumbed to respiratory failure as having died of Covid. In the two weeks to January 4, China reported fewer than 20 deaths from local Covid cases, according to figures published on the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
WHO officials, who have struggled with China’s tight control of data access throughout the pandemic, have become increasingly vocal in their calls for reliable information as an outbreak major tears in Chinese urban centers following a sharp loosening of disease controls last month.
There, the outbreak has overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums, sparked shortages of basic medicines and raised fears of an even bleaker month as experts warn of a spread in less-endowed rural areas over the next Lunar New Year.
The spike in cases in a country of 1.4 billion has also raised global concerns about the potential emergence of new variants – and the levels of surveillance and data sharing in China. A number of economies have implemented Covid testing requirements for travelers from China, citing a lack of data on the strains circulating there.
The European Union on Wednesday “strongly encouraged” its member states to introduce a negative Covid test requirement for passengers traveling from China to the EU, according to a statement issued by the bloc’s Swedish presidency.
The WHO’s Tedros said on Wednesday it was “understandable” that some countries were taking these steps, “with China’s circulation so high and full data not available.”
Chinese health officials presented recent genomic data to a WHO advisory body in a closed meeting on Tuesday. The variants detected there are known to be circulating in other countries, with no new variants yet reported by the Chinese CDC, the body said in a statement on Wednesday.
But the group and WHO officials have continued to stress the need for more recent genomic data. The latest situation adds to longstanding challenges for the UN body, which was criticized at the start of the pandemic that it had not pushed China hard enough to obtain data, amid fears that information criticisms are not masked. Beijing has repeatedly defended its transparency.
“There is a lot more data that needs to be shared from China and additionally around the world so that we can follow this pandemic as we enter this fourth year,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, technical manager of the Institute, on Wednesday. WHO on Covid.
“We need more sequencing information across the country, (and for) these sequences to be shared with publicly available databases like GISAID so that further analyzes can be performed,” he said. she declared. GISAID is a global initiative that provides access to genomic data from different influenza viruses.
Information about the outbreak in China would also be shared with WHO member states at a wider meeting on Thursday, WHO officials said.