Four years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, China is facing a concerning outbreak of a mystery pneumonia-like illness, leading to a resurgence of masks and social distancing measures reminiscent of the initial lockdown. Alarming footage from Chinese hospitals shows crowded scenes of mask-wearing individuals, sparking global concerns about a potential new pandemic.
The outbreak, particularly affecting northern regions like Beijing and Liaoning, has seen hospitals inundated with sick children. Reports last week indicated a strain on healthcare facilities due to the surge in cases. The illness is linked to a common bacterial infection, mycoplasma pneumoniae, which has been present since May. However, recent lung scans have shown ground glass opacity, a sign of severe respiratory illness, also known as “white lung syndrome.”
Parents are increasingly anxious as they face long waits for emergency care. Despite this, Chinese authorities maintain that the surge is due to typical flu and winter ailments rather than a new virus. The government is urging local authorities to open more fever clinics and promote vaccination among children and the elderly.
Ministry spokesman Mi Feng emphasized the need to expand clinic services, extend operating hours, and increase medicine supply. He also advised the public to wear masks and called for preventive measures in crowded settings like schools and nursing homes.
This statement follows reports from a Beijing children’s hospital to state media CCTV that it’s admitting over 7,000 patients daily, exceeding its capacity. Similarly, Tianjin’s largest pediatric hospital reported receiving more than 13,000 children.
The spike in illnesses coincides with China’s first full winter since lifting strict COVID-19 restrictions last December. Professor Francois Balloux from the UCL Genetics Institute attributes the “exit wave” of infections to reduced immunity caused by prolonged lockdowns.
Comparatively, while countries like the US and UK experienced post-lockdown infection spikes, China’s situation appears more severe. The World Health Organization (WHO) has made a rare public request for more information from Beijing regarding these infections. While WHO stated that no unusual pathogens were detected in the data from China, both China and WHO have faced criticism for their initial handling and transparency during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the first COVID-19 cases having emerged in Wuhan around this time four years ago, there are growing concerns and comparisons to the early days of COVID-19. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has advised keeping an open mind about the cause of this pneumonia outbreak.
Chinese health authorities are now directing parents to take less severely ill children to clinics and other facilities. However, WHO asserts that there is insufficient information to fully assess the risk of these respiratory illness cases in children.
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)