The World Health Organization has officially appealed to China for additional data concerning a respiratory illness spreading in the northern regions of the country. The organization is urging the Chinese population to adopt measures to reduce the risk of infection. Since mid-October, there has been a notable increase in cases resembling “influenza-like illness” in northern China compared to the same period in the past three years, according to the WHO.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the UN health body declared, “An official request for comprehensive information on the rise in respiratory illnesses and the identified clusters of pneumonia in children has been submitted to China by the WHO.”

Last week, the Beijing National Health Commission (NHC) informed the media that the upsurge in respiratory illnesses resulted from the easing of Covid-19 restrictions and the circulation of known pathogens, including influenza and common bacterial infections that affect children.

Wang Quanyi, Deputy Director and Chief Epidemiological Expert at the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention, highlighted to the state-run outlet Beijing News on Wednesday that China’s capital is currently undergoing an elevated incidence of respiratory infectious diseases. He noted the presence of a pattern in Beijing where multiple pathogens are coexisting.

On November 21, ProMED, the media and public disease surveillance system, reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China. The WHO acknowledged the report but emphasized uncertainty about its connection to the official authorities’ press conference, actively seeking clarification.

The agency has officially requested additional information on recent prevalence patterns of known pathogens, including influenza, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for Covid-19), RSV affecting infants, and Mycoplasma pneumoniae. The statement also specified inquiries into the degree of overcrowding in the health system.

Concurrently, the WHO is advising individuals to adopt preventive measures, encompassing vaccination, maintaining a safe distance from individuals displaying symptoms, and wearing masks.

As the Chinese capital grapples with a cold spell, state media reports anticipate temperatures to plummet well below zero by Friday.

The WHO has not offered any insights into China’s response to the information request, and as of Thursday, the Chinese foreign ministry has refrained from commenting on the matter in response to AFP’s inquiry.

Scientists are currently divided between two primary theories regarding the cause: the potential of a laboratory escape from a facility in the city where research on such viruses was being conducted, or transmission from an intermediate animal that infected people at a local market.

Earlier in the year, WHO experts reiterated their conviction that Beijing holds a more comprehensive dataset that could provide insights into the origins of Covid-19, emphasizing the moral imperative for sharing this information.

In the beginning of 2021, a team of specialists, led by the WHO and joined by Chinese colleagues, conducted an investigation in China. However, no subsequent teams have been able to return, and WHO officials have persistently sought additional data.

WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has emphasized the critical importance of unraveling this mystery in preventing future pandemics.

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