NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhstan has labelled a Chinese claim that it is being ravaged by a pneumonia outbreak that is deadlier than the coronavirus as 'fake news.'
The Kazakh Health Ministry said in a statement on July 10 that a spike in cases was due to its including the classification of pneumonia cases where COVID-19 symptoms were present but the patients tested negative, which is in line within World Health Organization guidelines.
'The information published by some Chinese media regarding a new kind of pneumonia in Kazakhstan is incorrect,' the ministry said.
The statement came after the Chinese Embassy in Nur-Sultan posted a message on its website warning of a 'significant increase' in pneumonia cases in the Kazakh cities of Atyrau, Aqtobe, and Shymkent since mid-June that has 'a mortality rate far higher than COVID-19.'
It added that pneumonia in Kazakhstan killed 1,772 people in the first half of 2020, with 628 deaths in June, including Chinese citizens.
Hours later the embassy appeared to edit its message, dropping the words 'new pneumonia' and 'unknown.'
However, the South China Morning Post, among other media outlets, had already issued an article about 'an unknown deadly pneumonia in Kazakhstan,' citing the embassy's statement.
Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries have been accused in recent weeks of underplaying the scale of their second wave of cases by classifying many as pneumonia.
The pro-government website Tengrinews quoted a doctor as saying the surge in pneumonia cases was 'a manifestation of the coronavirus.'
The oil-rich country, which borders China and Russia, has seen a spike in coronavirus cases since lifting lockdown measures in May.
Kazakhstan imposed a second lockdown this week to curb the outbreak. The total number of cases -- including a daily record of 1,962 on July 9 alone -- has almost reached 55,000, with 264 deaths.
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