The World Health Organization has accused China of “underrepresenting” the risk from the outbreak of Covid Criticizing its “narrow” definition of what constitutes a Covid death, top global health officials urged Beijing to share more data on the explosive spread.
We continue to ask China “For more rapid, regular and reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as the most comprehensive real-time viral sequencing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media conference in Geneva on Wednesday.
“The World Health Organization is concerned about the risks to life in China and has emphasized the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalization, severe disease, and death,” he said.
Speaking in more detail, WHO Executive Director for Health Emergencies Mike Ryan said the current figures released from China “do not represent the true impact of the disease” in terms of hospital and intensive care unit admissions, as well as deaths.
He acknowledged that many countries had seen delays in reporting hospital data, but he pointed to China definition of “narrow” Covid deaths as part of the case.
The country only lists Covid patients who developed respiratory failure as having died of Covid. In the two weeks leading up to Jan. 4, China reported fewer than 20 deaths from local Covid cases, according to figures released on the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.
World Health Organization officials, who have grappled with China’s tight control of access to data throughout the pandemic, have become increasingly vocal in their calls for reliable information with large outbreaks in China’s urban centers following the sudden easing of disease control last month.
There, an outbreak Hospitals and crematoriums are overwhelmedcausing shortages of essential medicines, and sparking fears that there will be a darker month, as experts warn of the spread of the disease to rural areas with less resources during the upcoming Lunar New Year.
The sudden surge in cases in a country of 1.4 billion people has also sparked global concerns about the potential for new variants to emerge – and China’s levels of surveillance and data sharing. A number of economies have implemented Covid test requirements for travelers from China, noting the paucity of data on the strains circulating there.
On Wednesday, the European Union “strongly encouraged” its member states to introduce a requirement for a negative Covid test for passengers traveling from China to the EU, according to a statement from the bloc’s Swedish presidency.
The World Health Organization’s Tedros said on Wednesday that it was “understandable” that some countries were taking these steps, “with the spread of data in China so high and so comprehensive not being made available.”
Chinese health officials presented the latest genome data to an advisory body to the World Health Organization during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday. The organization said in a statement on Wednesday that the variants detected there are known and have been circulating in other countries, with no new variant reported yet by the CDC in China.
But the group and WHO officials continued to stress the need for more genomic data to come. The latest situation adds to longstanding challenges facing the UN body, which faced criticism at the start of the pandemic that it did not push China hard enough to obtain data, amid concerns that Beijing is withholding critical information. Beijing has repeatedly defended its transparency.
“There is a lot of data that needs to be shared from China and also from around the world so that we can track this pandemic as we enter this fourth year,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid, said Wednesday.
“We need more information about sequences across the country, (and for) sharing of these sequences with publicly available databases such as GISAID so deeper analyzes can be conducted,” she said. GISAID is a global initiative that provides access to genetic data of various influenza viruses.
WHO officials said information about the outbreak in China will also be shared with WHO member states during a broader meeting on Thursday.