China’s surge in respiratory illness is caused by known pathogens and there is no sign of new infectious diseases, a health official said Saturday as the country faces its first full winter since lifting its strict COVID-19 restrictions.
The spike in illness in the country where COVID emerged in late 2019 attracted the spotlight when the World Health Organization sought information last week, citing a report of clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children.
Chinese authorities will open more pediatric outpatient clinics, seek to ensure more elderly people and children receive flu vaccines and encourage people to wear masks and wash their hands, Mi Feng, an official with China’s National Health Commission, told a press conference.
Doctors in China and experts abroad have not expressed alarm about China’s outbreaks, given that many other countries saw similar increases in respiratory diseases after easing pandemic measures, which China did at the end of last year.
On Friday, five Republican senators led by Marco Rubio asked President Joe Biden’s administration to ban travel between the United States and China after a spike in Chinese respiratory illness cases.
A Biden administration official said the United States was closely monitoring the uptick in respiratory illnesses in China, but added, “We are seeing seasonal trends. Nothing is appearing out of the ordinary. … At this time, there is no indication that there is a link between the people who are seeking care in U.S. emergency departments and the outbreak of respiratory illness in China.”
Maria Van Kerkhove, acting director of the WHO’s department of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said earlier this week the increase appeared to be driven by a rise in the number of children contracting pathogens that they had avoided during two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
The spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said in response to the Rubio letter, “The relevant claims are purely ill-intentioned fabrications. China firmly opposes them.”
Rubio’s letter was also signed by Senators J.D. Vance, Rick Scott, Tommy Tuberville and Mike Braun.