China deals with a surge in respiratory illness cases

China called for vigilance on Friday as a surge of respiratory illness hit schools and hospitals and the World Health Organization, which has asked the government for disease data, said no unusual or novel pathogens had been detected.

2023 11 24T074750Z 2 LYNXMPEJAN078 RTROPTP 4 HEALTH CHINA WHO scaled
People wait for their rides outside a children's hospital in Beijing, China November 24, 2023. REUTERS/Florence Lo

China is grappling with a spike in respiratory illnesses as it enters its first full winter season since it lifted strict COVID-19 restrictions in December, with cases among children appearing especially high in northern areas like Beijing and Liaoning province where hospitals are warning of long waits.

The State Council said influenza would peak this winter and spring and mycoplasma pneumonia infection would continue to be high in some areas in future. It also warned of the risk of a rebound in COVID infections.

“All localities should strengthen information reporting on infectious diseases to ensure information is reported in a timely and accurate manner,” the State Council said in a statement.

The situation came into the spotlight this week when the WHO asked China for more information, citing a report by the Programme for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED) on clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children.

Both China and the WHO have faced questions about the transparency of reporting on the earliest COVID-19 cases that emerged in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.

On Thursday, the WHO said China had responded to its request and the data it provided suggested the cases were linked to the lifting of COVID curbs along with the circulation of known pathogens like mycoplasma pneumonia, a common bacterial infection that typically affects children, which has circulated since May.

This month, authorities began issuing health advisories saying they were paying attention to the situation and warning the public of long waits and the risk of cross-infection at crowded hospitals but they have not imposed measures like the ones during the COVID pandemic, such as masks or closing schools.

There has been no indication of any undue public alarm.

Bruce Thompson, head of the Melbourne School of Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne, said very preliminary data suggested there was nothing out of the ordinary.

“At this stage, there is nothing to suggest that it may be a new variant of COVID,” he said.

“One thing to note is that we can be reassured that the surveillance processes are working, which is a very good thing.”

Parents in Shanghai on Friday said they were not overly concerned about the wave of sickness, saying while it appeared to be more severe, they expected it to blow over soon.

“Colds happen all over the world,” said Emily Wu outside a children’s hospital. “I hope that people will not be biased because of the pandemic … but look at this from a scientific perspective.”

Another mother, Feng Zixun, said she was making her eight-year-old son wear a mask and wash his hands more often but nothing much more.

“It’s not that bad, there are more children falling sick now but it’s mainly an issue of protection,” she said.

More from Qonversations


0004b631 56b9 4634 8e8d b7d812e39ce8

Pope clears sainthood for Italian millennial known as ‘God’s influencer’



Kenyan mountaineer dies in quest for Everest Summit


Huia feather

Extinct huia bird feather breaks auction records at $46,521

Global Affairs

a6d83ff0 9037 40a6 8e04 2f03e8514816

World economy projected to grow by 2.7% in 2024

Front of mind