Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said the agency was ‘following up with China’ as hospitals across the country continue to be overwhelmed.
The country is grappling with a spike in pneumonia, dubbed ‘white lung syndrome’ because of the way lung damage shows up on scans, among children that has been attributed to a rebound in respiratory illnesses rather than an entirely new virus.
China had one of the most brutal and longest lockdowns of any country in the world which the WHO says robbed children of vital immunity against seasonal illnesses.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said the agency was ‘following up with China’ following a surge in cases of pneumonia in the country
The above picture shows children, parents and staff wearing face masks at a hospital unit in Beijing, which is being overwhelmed with children suffering from pneumonia
Dr Van Kerkhove told the conference today: ‘Yes, we are seeing an increase in respiratory infections around the world.
‘We’re in autumn and entering winter months, so we are expecting to see rises in respiratory infections regardless.
‘We are following up with China. They are seeing an increase due a number of different infections.
‘We are following up with our clinical network and following up with clinicians in China.
‘In terms of acute respiratory infections, we are looking at the burden on healthcare systems and looking at the healthcare capacities of systems.’
The WHO made the unusual move to publicly call for China to be transparent about the outbreak, which many believe is due to its mishandling of Covid when it was accused of shielding critical information on the disease in the early stages.
It comes after Chinese Health Ministry spokesman Mi Feng urged people in the country to again consider wearing face masks and distancing.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, he said: ‘Efforts should be made to increase the opening of relevant clinics and treatment areas, extend service hours and increase the supply of medicines.
‘It is necessary to do a good job in epidemic prevention and control in key crowded places.
‘[This includes] in schools, childcare institutions and nursing homes, and to reduce the flow of people and visits.’
Major pediatric hospitals are recording 7,000 admissions per day in some areas of Beijing, reports suggest.
The largest hospital in Tianjin — a province on the coast near Beijing — has allegedly been receiving more than 13,000 sick children through its doors daily.
There have also been reports of spikes in child illnesses in the province of Liaoning and in Shanghai — the country’s biggest city.
Patients being admitted to hospitals are reportedly suffering from high fever and lung inflammation, but without a cough or pulmonary nodules — lumps on the lungs that are usually the result of a past infection.
Scans are also showing opaque or clear areas inside their lungs, which can be caused by bacterial infections, leading to some doctors calling the disease ‘white lung syndrome’.
Chinese officials have insisted no new pathogen is to blame and instead have blamed a surge in common winter bugs as the country faces its first full winter without anti-Covid measures
Chinese Health Ministry spokesman Mi Feng urged people to again consider social distancing and masking up to avoid the disease
The WHO is under pressure to be tougher on China after its response early in the Covid pandemic.
The agency is still reeling from suggestions that it protected Beijing by parroting its line that Covid could not spread from person to person despite having no evidence to support the claim.
China is also under heavy pressure to be more transparent about its handling of this outbreak following the emergence of Covid in 2019.
The country took weeks to warn the world of the then-mystery pneumonia within its borders and also claimed the disease could not spread from person to person despite having no evidence to back up the claim.
The world was first alerted to the mysterious outbreak in China on November 21, when the disease surveillance system ProMED issued a notification about reports of an ‘undiagnosed pneumonia’ in China.
The system — which was also the first to raise the alarm in December 2019 over the emergence of Covid — works to detect unusual health events related to emerging infections.
The alert prompoted the WHO to send an official request for a meeting with the Chinese authorities, who agreed to a teleconference with the agency last Thursday.
The agency said the information provided indicated the clusters of cases were from known pathogens.
China also shared data that showed the country had been recording an increased number of children sick with mycoplasma pneumoniae — bacteria that causes mild infections of the respiratory system — since May.
Pediatric cases of RSV, adenovirus, influenza and COVID-19 have also been surging since the fall, according to the data seen by the WHO.
Concerns have been raised that people are being sickened by a disease — similar to the early stages of the Covid outbreak.
The world was first alerted to the outbreak of ‘mystery pneumonia’ in China by a report published on ProMED last week — the same system that alerted the world to the emergence of Covid in Wuhan.
Chinese officials say that no new disease has been detected and that the cases are instead being caused by a resurgence of other illnesses like the flu and respiratory synctial virus (RSV).
Repeated lockdowns and other measures — which were harshest in China — suppressed the spread of these diseases and weakened immunity against them, setting the stage for a rebound once restrictions were lifted.
The US faced a similar wave of illnesses last winter in its own ‘exit wave’ from the pandemic with many pediatric units overflowing and so did the United Kingdom.
Experts have also suggested that the fact mostly children are being sickened in this outbreak suggests the diseases causing it are ones adults have already been infected by and have immunity against.