International concern grows due to lack of data on China’s COVID-19 outbreak

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FILE – Workers wearing face masks push a tricycle delivering meals in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing on Dec. 14, 2022. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Tuesday, Dec. 27, that Japan will tighten border controls against COVID-19 by requiring tests for all visitors from China starting Friday as a temporary emergency measure against the surging infections there. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File) Ng Han Guan/AP

International concern grows due to lack of data on China’s COVID-19 outbreak

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Several countries are instituting new restrictions for travelers coming from China amid a surge in cases on the mainland, spurred by concerns about a lack of adequate and transparent COVID-19 data being reported by China.

China has only shared minimal data regarding the types of strains of the COVID-19 virus that is circulating and recently stopped reporting daily numbers, adding to international fears that it could delay the identification of a new, more serious COVID-19 variant that could emerge and fuel outbreaks in other locations.

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Chinese officials have said strains of the omicron variant that have been detected in other countries are the primary drivers in its current COVID-19 outbreak. Positive COVID-19 tests from air passengers arriving in Italy from China have also not detected any new strains.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said Thursday that the samples all showed strains of the omicron variant that are already circulating in other countries.

The leader of the World Health Organization, though, has expressed concerns about the uncertainty surrounding the data.

“WHO is very concerned over the evolving situation in China with increasing reports of severe disease. In order to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground, WHO needs more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions, and requirements for ICU support,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press conference last week.

The total number of infections in the country also remains unknown, as Chinese officials were unable to keep a tally after doing away with mass testing campaigns. Roughly 5,000 infections are being reported a day, a number health officials have suggested is an undercount amid reports of overcrowded hospitals.

An internal estimate from Chinese health officials obtained by Bloomberg News and the Financial Times suggested that nearly 250 million people in the country may have caught COVID-19 in the first 20 days of December, accounting for roughly 18% of China’s overall 1.4 billion population.

The international community has raised questions about the reliability of China’s COVID-19 data since the onset of the pandemic. In early 2020, countries scrambled to contain the spread of COVID-19 after first being detected in China. Health officials blamed China for downplaying key information at the beginning of the pandemic, giving countries less time to respond.

The United States, Italy, Japan, India, and Taiwan have already announced travel measures in recent days for travelers arriving from China in an attempt to remain vigilant to prevent outbreaks. The U.S. announced Wednesday that passengers 2 years and older flying to the U.S. from China will be required to show a negative test taken within two days of their departure from airports in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

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“Pre-departure testing and the requirement to show a negative test result has been shown to decrease the number of infected passengers boarding airplanes, and it will help to slow the spread of the virus as we work to identify and understand any potential new variants that may emerge,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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