China and Kazakhstan hold emergency talks amid new ‘deadlier than COVID-19’ disease

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Zhang Xiao, the Chinese ambassador to Kazakhstan, phoned Kazakh Health Minister Alexei Tsoi to reaffirm ties between the two countries. According to a statement on the Chinese embassy’s website during the call Mr Tsoi thanked China for the support it has provided during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Kazakhstan is a major partner in China’s belt and road initiative, an ambitious economic and geopolitical programme being promoted by Beijing.

The row began on Thursday when the Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan claimed the country had been stuck by an “unknown pneumonia”.

In a statement it claimed 1,772 have died this year in Kazakhstan from the mystery illness, including 628 in June.

The embassy reported Chinese nationals amongst the dead and suggested the illness could be more lethal than COVID-19.

It claimed the Kazakh cities of Aktobe, Shymkent and Atyrau had been especially badly affected.

However Kazakh authorities have strongly denied any mystery pneumonia like illness is spreading in the country.

On Friday Kazakhstan’s health ministry released a statement saying the claims did “not correspond with reality”.

However the ministry did admit some patients with COVID-19 like symptoms, who had tested negative to the infection, had been categorised as having pneumonia.

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On Friday the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it was aware of reports of a new pneumonia like condition which it suggested could be misdiagnosed coronavirus cases.

Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergency programme, said: “The upward trajectory of COVID-19 in the country would suggest that many of these cases are in fact undiagnosed cases of COVID-19.”

Kazakhstani authorities have been accused by critics of falsely registering coronavirus cases as pneumonia to downplay how badly the country has been hit.

Officially Kazakhstan has reported 55,000 coronavirus cases 264 of which were fatal.


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However those who suspect these aren’t the full figures point out the number of pneumonia cases in the country have soared.

According to health minister Aleksey Tsoy the number of pneumonia cases in Kazakhstan increased 50 percent in the first six months of this year to 1,780, compared with the 2019 figures.

Kazakhstan’s economy shrunk 1.8 percent in the first six months of the year due to coronavirus lockdowns and a sharp drop in oil prices.

As Central Asia’s top oil exporter Kazakhstan is particularly sensitive to any oil price fluctuation.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post Li Lifan, a Central Asia at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, insisted Kazakhstan remains a key partner for Beijing.

He commented: “It is true that we have minor incidents from time to time, but I don’t think it will alter the big picture.”

Chinese premier Xi Jinping has termed Kazakhstan a “friendly neighbour and a permanent comprehensive strategic partner”.

It total more than 11.8million people have been formally diagnosed with COVID-19 since the outbreak began of which 544,000 have died.

The WHO has said the outbreak is not under control globally and the rise in cases is continuing to accelerate.

It raised particular concern about the US, Brazil and India whilst also noting rising case numbers in South Africa.

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