TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — As COVID-19 sweeps through China, other countries and the World Health Organization are calling on your government to share more comprehensive data on the outbreak. Some even say that many of the numbers it reports are nonsense.
Without basic data like the number of deaths, infections and severe cases, governments elsewhere have instituted virus testing requirements for travelers from China. Beijing has said the measures are not based on science and threatened countermeasures..
Most worrying is whether the new variants will arise from the mass infection unfolding in China and spread to other countries. The delta and omicron variants developed in places that also had large outbreaks, which may be a breeding ground for new variants.
Here’s a look at what’s happening with China’s COVID-19 data:
WHAT DOES CHINA SHARE AND DOES NOT SHARE?
Chinese health authorities publish a daily tally of new cases, serious cases and deaths, but those numbers include only officially confirmed cases and use a very narrow definition. of COVID-related deaths.
China is certainly doing its own sampling studies, but it’s just not sharing them, said Ray Yip, who founded the US Centers for Disease Control office in China.
The national tally for Thursday was 9,548 new cases and five deaths, but some local governments are posting much higher estimates for their jurisdictions alone. Zhejiang, a province on the east coast, said on Tuesday that it was seeing about 1 million new cases a day.
If a variant emerges in an outbreak, it is found through genetic sequencing of the virus.
Since the pandemic began, China has shared 4,144 sequences with GISAID, a global platform for coronavirus data. That’s just 0.04% of its number of reported cases, a rate more than 100 times lower than the United States and nearly four times lower than neighboring Mongolia.
WHAT IS KNOWN AND WHAT CAN BE DETERMINED?
So far, no new variants have appeared in the sequences shared by China. The accounts fueling infections in China “look very similar” to those seen in other parts of the world since July, GISAID said. Dr. Gagandeep Kang, who studies viruses at Vellore Christian Medical College in India, agreed, saying there was nothing particularly worrisome in the data so far.
That hasn’t stopped at least 10 countries, including the US., Canada, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Italy, announcing virus testing requirements for passengers from China. The European Union strongly encouraged all its member states to do so this week.
Health officials have defended the tests as a surveillance measure that helps fill an information gap from China. This means countries can get a read on any changes in the virus through testing, even if they don’t have full data from China.
“We don’t need China to study that, all we have to do is test everyone leaving China,” said Yip, a former public health official.
Canada and Belgium said they will look for viral particles in wastewater from planes arriving from China.
“It’s like an early warning system for authorities to anticipate if a wave of infections is coming,” said Dr. Khoo Yoong Khean, scientific officer at the Duke-NUS Outbreak Preparedness Center in Singapore.
DOES CHINA SHARE ENOUGH INFORMATION?
Chinese officials have repeatedly said they are sharing information, pointing to sequences given to GISAID and meetings with the WHO.
But WHO officials have repeatedly called for more, not just about genetic sequencing, but also about hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern this week about the risk to life in China.
“Data remain essential for the WHO to carry out regular, rapid and robust risk assessments of the global situation,” said the head of the UN health agency.
The Chinese government often has information from its own public, particularly anything that reflects negatively on the ruling Communist Party. State media have moved away from dire reports of an increase in cremations. and people running from hospital to hospital trying to get treatment as the health system reaches capacity. Government officials have accused foreign media of exaggerating the situation.
Noting that South Africa’s early warning on omicron led to the country’s travel ban, Khoo said there is a need to foster an environment where countries can share data without fear of repercussions.
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