Kazakhstan’s Health Ministry has dismissed reports of an "unknown pneumonia" seen in a rising number of cases across several Kazakh cities.
On Thursday, the Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan issued a warning to Chinese citizens residing in the Central Asian country that the number of new pneumonia cases has significantly increased in the cities of Atyrau, Aktobe and Shymkent since mid-June, referring to the Kazakh media as a source.
‘‘The Kazakh Health Ministry and other healthcare agencies are conducting a comparative study on a pneumonia virus and have not yet determined its nature,’’ the embassy said in a statement on its website.
The statement was later cited by some Chinese media outlets, including the South China Morning Post — a Hong Kong’s flagship English-language newspaper that claimed that the unidentified virus causing pneumonia is ‘‘deadlier than coronavirus sweeping Kazakhstan.’’
Kazakhstan’s health ministry was quick to react, branding Chinese media reports as “fake news".
‘‘The Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan officially declares that this information does not correspond to reality,’’ reads the statement published to the ministry website on July 10.
The document also noted that Kazakhstan keeps records of some pneumonia cases in line with 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.’’
Earlier this week, Alexey Tsoi, who heads the country’s health ministry, said health experts in Kazakhstan have recorded a sharp rise in the pneumonia cases apart from those caused by the novel coronavirus.
‘‘Minister Tsoi spoke about the total number of pneumonia cases in Kazakhstan caused by bacterial, fungal, and viral infections, including viral pneumonia of unspecified etiology,” the ministry said.
According to the government data, over the first six months of the year the number of patients with pneumonia amounted to more than 98,000, 55 percent up as compared to the same period last year. At the same time, nearly 32,000 of those infected have been tested negative for the novel coronavirus.
‘‘This is acceptable because the coronavirus infection descends from the upper respiratory tract into the lower respiratory tract; in this case, the test does not always show a positive result,’’ Forbes Kazakhstan quoted Kazakhstan’s Chief Sanitary Officer Ayzhan Yesmagambetova as saying on July 3.
According to Yesmagambetova, healthcare experts in Kazakhstan are now working to define the cause of the increase in the pneumonia cases.
As Central Asia’s largest country with a population of almost 19 million, Kazakhstan imposed a second lockdown on July 5, after a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across the country. The lockdown will last until July 19, with the possibility of being extended for another two weeks or longer, depending on the epidemiological situation in the country.
As of today, the novel coronavirus has infected 58,253 people and killed 264 in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan will observe a national day of mourning on Monday, July 13 for the pandemic victims.