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‘Mysterious pneumonia’ plagues Chinese children: The WHO and other global experts are spooked, fearing the onset of another pandemic.

China's attempt at forcefully containing COVID-19 through its 'zero-covid policy' has backfired.

On November 13th, Chinese health authorities got coerced into holding a press conference where they acknowledged an abrupt spike in cases of a ‘mysterious pneumonia’ that has been preying predominantly on children since mid-October. A week earlier, a children’s hospital in Beijing reported that approximately seven thousand patients with COVID-like symptoms were flocking to its facility every day, surpassing its capacity.

On November 21st, ProMed, an international surveillance platform, issued an alert over the unfolding disease and labelled it as ‘undiagnosed pneumonia.’ Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) is spooked by the recurrence of this disease and has formally requested the Chinese government to disclose its findings and collaborate to figure out the cause of its outbreak. 

The global community is not too pleased with the discovery as the recent developments strongly reminisce what happened in the winter of November 2019, when an undisclosed disease spread out of China’s Wuhan and stagnated humankind by triggering the COVID-19 pandemic. While the world stays in the dark regarding the origin of the Coronavirus, China’s ambiguity around this ‘mysterious pneumonia’ is doing little to quell a global panic.

What has happened?

The news of children getting hospitalised in Northern China emerged in mid-October. Images of hospital lobbies overwhelmed with clusters of sick children started circulating in Chinese social media, and the government resorted to suspending classes in some schools after both students and teachers fell ill. 

The symptoms of the illness include high fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Despite these symptoms being similar to COVID-19, initial tests have ruled out the chances of a novel coronavirus as its cause. Chinese health officials are collaborating with international experts to identify the cause of this pneumonia. Some say the disease might be influenza, an effect of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), or mycoplasma pneumonia.

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs where numerous air sacks (alveoli) get filled with fluid or pus, giving way to breathing difficulty and other complications. Concerned authorities have been conducting laboratory tests and epidemiological investigations but are yet to determine the nature of the pathogen involved (virus, bacteria, or fungi).

The WHO has assured the global community that it is seeking clarifications from the Chinese authorities and ProMed to build an official stance that would stop unnecessary panic and enable the concerned authorities to take precautionary measures. At the preliminary level, the WHO has advised the affected people to maintain good hygiene, medical attention, and stay informed. Rapid information sharing and international cooperation are rudimentary to alleviate the crisis. 

What is the feasible reason behind such a predicament?

China has seen an abrupt spike in Covid cases over the last few months. In October, China saw 209 severe cases of COVID-19, due to which 24 people lost their lives. Experts suggest that despite Xi Jinping’s authoritarian attempt at controlling the pandemic, his infamous ‘zero-covid policy‘ has backfired.

In 2022, China tried to rigorously cleanse the country of its COVID cases by imposing a strict policy whereby the Chinese police cracked down on an area where its citizens were found COVID-19-positive and held them hostage in forced quarantine. However, as China’s economy took a pinch owing to such strict regulations, the policy was scrapped in January 2023.

Experts believe that this policy has made the Chinese people increasingly vulnerable to the disease, owing to an apparent ‘immunity gap.’ While other countries allowed their citizens to develop natural immunity against the disease, China’s attempt at controlling it left millions of its citizens unvaccinated and unacclimatised. 

With the advent of the winter season in China, the cases of pathogen-induced respiratory ailments have quadrupled! While many fear that 2019 might repeat itself, global experts and the WHO have realised the need for ‘constant vigilance’ to keep another pandemic at bay. 

We at Digpu do not aim at spreading panic or misinformation. However, we maintain that it is high time the Chinese government became transparent about its modulus operandi and ratified a standard operating procedure.

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