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Coronavirus

EDITORIAL | Don't Let China Cover Up New Wave of Respiratory Infections

COVID-19 spread worldwide because of the secrecy of China. Don't let that happen again as new pathogens are causing the fresh wave of respiratory infections.

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Children receive IV drips while waiting to see a doctor in a Beijing hospital. (©Kyodo)

Respiratory infections among children are spreading in China, especially in the capital of Beijing. They are also proliferating in Liaoning Province in the northeast of the country. 

The Chinese government describes it as a normal winter outbreak involving known diseases such as influenza and mycoplasma pneumonia. It also says that no new pathogens have been identified. 

Nevertheless, the Chinese authorities have provided no detailed explanations of the respiratory infections. Meanwhile, other countries are justified in expressing concern. The Chinese government should compile accurate data and publicly release the facts as soon as possible. 

After all, when the novel coronavirus COVID-19 first started spreading in the city of Wuhan, the Chinese government covered up the facts and was slow in responding to the situation. As a result, the world experienced an explosion of COVID-19 infections. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at an infectious disease crisis management response training session. November 7, 2023. (© Sankei by Ataru Haruna)

Protecting Against a New Respiratory Disease

According to reports, the respiratory disease currently prevalent in China is characterized by fever, but no coughing. Meanwhile, chest X-rays yield negative results. In some cases, hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients. 

Many people are undoubtedly feeling uneasy about the situation, as it brings to mind the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hopefully, the Japanese government will recall how it was caught on its back foot during the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, it must respond with a greater sense of urgency. 

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Health authorities in Taiwan have increased quarantine vigilance at airports and ports. They are urging travelers to China to get vaccinated against influenza and new strains of COVID-19. Shouldn’t Japan too be strengthening its quarantine measures?

The government established the "Cabinet Agency for Infectious Disease Crisis Management" in September as the command center for infectious disease responses. In November, it staged a training exercise to confirm its initial response capabilities. 

However, now is the time to consider that a crisis may occur at any time and act accordingly. The Agency needs to coordinate closely with the Ministry of Health and other relevant ministries and agencies. That includes collecting data, disseminating health information to the public, and taking effective waterfront measures. 

A hospital in Beijing is crowded with visitors on November 26. (©Kyodo)

WHO Cannot Shirk Its Responsibility

At the same time, the World Health Organization (WHO) must strongly urge the Chinese side to disclose the information it is holding concerning the current situation. 

WHO officials held a conference call with Chinese health officials on November 23. Reportedly they were told that no new pathogens or unusual clinical symptoms had emerged in China. Instead, the Chinese side claimed that respiratory illnesses caused by known pathogens were increasing. To date, WHO has not recommended any special measures for travelers going to China. 

Simply believing what they are told is inadequate. It will not prepare anyone for a new outbreak of an infectious disease.  We would hope that instead WHO officials will learn from what happened with the COVID-19 pandemic. They need to adopt a strong stance that will not allow the Chinese government to engage in another data cover-up.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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