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What we know so far about surging respiratory illnesses in China

Admin By Admin Nov24,2023


The report triggered memories of the pandemic, with social media users fearing “a new virus coming from China”, or a “new Covid”.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization – which repeatedly criticised Beijing for a lack of transparency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – requested more information from China about children suffering from “undiagnosed pneumonia”.

Beijing responded on Thursday, saying “there has been no detection of any unusual or novel pathogens”, according to a WHO statement.

The WHO has requested more information, noting that China closely monitors trends in viruses such as the flu, RSV and SARS-CoV-2.

China also started monitoring mycoplasma pneumonia for the first time in mid-October, the WHO added.

The WHO said that “there is limited detailed information available to fully characterise the overall risk of these reported cases of respiratory illness in children”.

However an increase in such illnesses was to be expected with the arrival of winter, it added.


Several experts pointed to winter’s arrival, the end of COVID-19 restrictions, and a lack of prior immunity in children as likely being behind the surging infections.

“Since China experienced a far longer and harsher lockdown than essentially any other country on Earth, it was anticipated that those ‘lockdown exit’ waves could be substantial in China,” said Francois Balloux of University College London.

Unless there is new evidence suggesting otherwise, “there is no reason to suspect the emergence of a novel pathogen,” he added.

Paul Hunter of the UK’s University of East Anglia emphasised that “at present there is too little information to make a definitive diagnosis”.

However “overall, this does not sound to me like an epidemic due to a novel virus”, he added.

“If it was, I would expect to see many more infections in adults. The few infections reported in adults suggest existing immunity from a prior exposure.”

Catherine Bennett of Australia’s Deakin University pointed out that “young children in school in China will have spent up to half their life without the usual exposure to common pathogens, and so do not have the same levels of immunity”.


The WHO recommended that people in the affected areas follow the normal rules to avoid respiratory illnesses.

These include getting vaccinated, isolating if symptoms emerge, and getting tested or wearing masks if necessary.

Based on the current information, the WHO advised against any travel restrictions involving China.

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