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WHO Chief Says China Under-Reports COVID-19 Deaths

GENEVA, Jan 11: World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday said that the organization's data on the number of deaths from COVID-19 worldwide is lowered due to the under-reporting of cases by China.

"Last week, almost 11,500 deaths were reported to the WHO: about 40 per cent from the Americas, 30 per cent from Europe and 30 per cent from the Western Pacific region. However, this number is almost certainly an underestimate, given the underreporting of COVID-related deaths in China," Ghebreyesus told a briefing, according to the remarks published on the WHO website.

The WHO chief urged all countries to share true statistics so as to contribute to a more effective fight against the spread of the disease. Last week, Tedros asked China for reliable data on Covid hospitalizations and deaths in the country.

"We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing," Tedros said at a media briefing in Geneva. This comment came after WHO held a high-level meeting with counterparts in China to discuss the surge in cases and hospitalisation.

Back in December, the Chinese government dropped its zero COVID-19 policy toward the pandemic after almost three years, leading to a mammoth rise in cases in a matter of few weeks. Later in January, obligatory PCR testing and centralized isolation for people arriving in China were cancelled.

The sudden spike in the covid tally of China has forced a number of countries, including the United States, Italy, Japan and South Korea, to tighten measures against passengers arriving from the country.

During the media briefing, Tedros said throughout the pandemic, testing and sequencing helped WHO to track the spread and development of new variants.

"But since the peak of the Omicron wave, the number of sequences being shared has dropped by more than 90 per cent, and the number of countries sharing sequences has fallen by a third," he said.

The WHO chief noted that countries cannot maintain the same levels of testing and sequencing they had during the Omicron peak. However, he added that the world cannot close its eyes and hope this virus will go away.

Tedros underlined that sequencing remains vital to detect and track the emergence and spread of new variants, such as XBB.1.5. "We urge all countries now experiencing intense transmission to increase sequencing, and to share those sequences," he added.

Current Numbers 'Under-Represent True Impact' Of Covid In China: WHO

GENEVA, Jan 4: The World Health Organization criticised Wednesday China's "very narrow" definition of Covid deaths, warning that official statistics were not showing the true impact of the outbreak.

"We still do not have complete data," the WHO's emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters.

"We believe that the current numbers being published from China under-represent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths."

His comments came amid growing concern over China's steep rise in Covid infections since Beijing last month abruptly lifted years of hardline restrictions, with hospitals and crematoriums quickly overwhelmed.

Yet China has only recorded 22 Covid deaths since December and has dramatically narrowed the criteria for classifying such fatalities -- meaning that Beijing's own statistics about the unprecedented wave are now widely seen as not reflecting reality.

"We believe that definition is too narrow," Ryan said, pointing out that the definition Beijing is using "requires a respiratory failure" associated with a Covid infection for a fatality to be registered as a Covid death.

"That is a very narrow definition."

He stressed that it was vital to have accurate information about how the virus was spreading and the true impact it was having, and he suggested that individual health professionals could help provide a more accurate picture.

"We do not discourage doctors and nurses reporting these deaths and these cases. We have an open approach to be able to record the actual impact of disease in society."

He recognised that China had stepped up its engagement with the WHO in recent weeks, and said "we look forward to receiving more comprehensive data."

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that the organisation's officials had held high-level talks in recent weeks with counterparts in China.

"We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalisation and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing," he said.

"Data remains essential for WHO to carry out regular, rapid, and robust risk assessments of the current situation and adjust our advice and guidance accordingly," he said.

He reiterated that the UN health agency understood why a number of countries were introducing fresh Covid curbs on visitors from China.

"With circulation in China so high and comprehensive data not forthcoming... it is understandable that some countries are taking steps they believe will protect their own citizens," he said.

70 Per Cent Of Shanghai May Have Been Infected With Covid: Top Doctor

SHANGHAI, Jan 3: A senior doctor at one of Shanghai's top hospitals has said 70 per cent of the megacity's population may have been infected with Covid-19 during China's huge surge in cases, state media reported Tuesday.

The steep rise in infections came after years of hardline restrictions were abruptly loosened last month with little warning or preparation, and quickly overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums.

Chen Erzhen, vice president at Ruijin Hospital and a member of Shanghai's Covid expert advisory panel, estimated that the majority of the city's 25 million people may have been infected.

"Now the spread of the epidemic in Shanghai is very wide, and it may have reached 70 per cent of the population, which is 20 to 30 times more than (in April and May)," he told Dajiangdong Studio, owned by the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily.

Shanghai suffered a gruelling two-month lockdown in April, during which over 600,000 residents were infected and many were hauled to mass quarantine centres.

But now, the Omicron variant is spreading rampantly across the city and experts predict infections there will peak in early 2023.

In other major cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, Chongqing and Guangzhou, Chinese health officials have suggested that the wave has already peaked.

Chen added that his Shanghai hospital was seeing 1,600 emergency admissions daily -- double the number prior to restrictions being lifted -- with 80 per cent of them Covid patients.

"More than 100 ambulances arrive at the hospital every day," he was quoted as saying, adding that around half of emergency admissions were vulnerable people aged over 65.

At Tongren Hospital in downtown Shanghai, AFP reporters saw patients receiving emergency medical attention outside the entrance of the overcrowded facility on Tuesday.

Chinese officials are bracing for a virus wave to hit China's underresourced rural interior, as millions of people prepare to travel back to their hometowns for the week-long Lunar New Year public holiday beginning January 21.

In an interview with state broadcaster CCTV on Monday, National Health Commission (NHC) official Jiao Yahui admitted that dealing with the expected peak in rural areas would be an "enormous challenge".

"What we are most worried about is in the past three years nobody has returned home for Lunar New Year but they finally can this year," said Jiao.

"As a result, there may be a retaliatory surge of urban residents into the countryside to visit their relatives, so we are even more worried about the rural epidemic."

She also acknowledged the pressure on hospital emergency departments and promised that authorities would coordinate medical resources to ensure the treatment of patients in underfunded areas.

Meanwhile, over a dozen countries have imposed Covid testing restrictions on passengers from China after Beijing announced its borders would reopen from January 8.

Countries including the United States have also cited Beijing's lack of transparency around infection data and the risk of new variants as a reason to restrict travellers.

China has only recorded 22 Covid deaths since December, and dramatically narrowed the criteria for classifying such deaths early in the month.

But Jiao told reporters on Thursday that China had always published data "on Covid-19 deaths and severe cases in the spirit of openness and transparency".

"China has always been committed to the scientific criteria for judging Covid-19 deaths, from beginning to end, which are in line with the international criteria," Jiao said.

Share Specific, Real-Time Info On Covid Situation, WHO Tells China

GENEVA, Jan 3: The World Health Organization on Friday once again urged China's health officials to regularly share specific and real-time information on the COVID-19 situation in the country, as it continues to assess the latest surge in infections.

The agency has asked Chinese officials to share more genetic sequencing data, as well as data on hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations.

Official figures from China have become an unreliable guide as less testing is being done across the country following the recent easing of the strict "zero-COVID" policy.

WHO has previously said that China may be struggling to keep a tally of COVID-19 infections.

The agency has invited Chinese scientists to present detailed data on viral sequencing at its meeting of a technical advisory group scheduled for Jan. 3.

COVID infections have risen across China this month after Beijing dismantled its zero-COVID policies including regular PCR testing on its population. The United States, South Korea, India, Italy, Japan and Taiwan have all imposed COVID tests for travellers from China in response.

The United States has also attributed the recent change in its policy to the lack of information on COVID variants and concerns that the increased cases in China could result in the development of new variants of the virus.

Senior Chinese health officials exchanged views with the WHO on the new coronavirus via a video conference, China's National Health Commission said in a statement earlier on Friday.

Both sides exchanged views on the current epidemic situation, medical treatment, vaccination and other technical matters, the Chinese health authority said, adding that more technical exchanges would be held.

 


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