EXPLANATION: Is China sharing enough information about COVID-19?
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — As COVID-19 spreads in China, other countries and the World Health Organization are urging their government to share more comprehensive information about the outbreak. Some even say that many of the numbers he reports are meaningless.
Without key data such as the number of deaths, infections and serious cases, governments elsewhere have imposed virus testing requirements for travelers from China. Beijing has said that these measures are not based on science and has threatened countermeasures.
The biggest concern is whether new variants will emerge from the massive infection in China and spread to other countries. Delta and omicron variants have also evolved in areas of large outbreaks, which may be fertile ground for new variants.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in China’s COVID-19 data:
WHAT IS CHINA SHARING AND NOT SHARING?
Chinese health officials publish daily numbers of new cases, severe cases and deaths, but those numbers include only officially confirmed cases and use a very narrow definition of COVID-related deaths.
Ray Yip, who founded the US Centers for Disease Control’s China office, said China is certainly doing its own case studies but not sharing them.
The national tally for Thursday was 9,548 new cases and five deaths, but some local governments are releasing higher counts only for their own jurisdictions. Zhejiang province on the east coast said on Tuesday it was seeing about 1 million new cases a day.
If a variant emerges during an epidemic, it is detected by genetic sequencing of the virus.
Since the start of the pandemic, China has shared 4,144 sequences with GISAID, the global coronavirus data platform. That’s just 0.04% of the number of reported cases – more than 100 times lower than the US and almost four times lower than neighboring Mongolia.
WHAT DO WE KNOW AND WHAT CAN WE DISCOVER?
So far, no new variants have been seen in the footage shared by China. GISAID said the intensifying versions of infections in China were “very similar” to those seen elsewhere in the world since July. Dr Gagandeep Kang, who studies viruses at the Vellore Christian Medical College in India, said there was nothing particularly relevant in the data so far.
That hasn’t stopped at least 10 countries, including the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, the UK, France, Spain and Italy, from announcing virus testing requirements for passengers arriving from China. The European Union urged all member states to do so this week.
Health officials have championed the tests as a surveillance measure to help fill a data gap from China. This means that countries can read any changes in the virus through testing, even if they don’t have full information from China.
“We don’t need China to find out, what we need to do is test everyone who comes out of China,” said Yip, a former public health official.
Canada and Belgium have said they will look for virus particles in aircraft sewage from China.
“It’s like an early warning system for authorities to expect infections to increase,” said Dr Khoo Yoong Khean, senior scientist at the Duke-NUS Disease Center in Singapore.
IS CHINA SHARING ENOUGH INFORMATION?
Chinese officials have repeatedly pointed to footage provided to GISAID and meetings with the WHO, saying they shared information.
But WHO officials have repeatedly asked for more — not just genetic sequencing, but also hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and deaths. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern this week about the threat to life in China.
“Data remains essential for WHO to conduct regular, timely and reliable risk assessments of the global situation,” said the head of the UN health agency.
The Chinese government often withholds information from its public, especially anything that reflects negatively on the ruling Communist Party. State media avoided dire reports of people rushing from hospital to hospital trying to get treatment as the cremation surge and the health system reached capacity. Government officials accused the foreign media of inflaming the situation.
Khean said there is a need to foster an environment where countries can share information without fear of repercussions, noting that South Africa’s early warning about omicron led to travel bans from the country.
The Associated Press is supported by the Department of Health and Science Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science and Education Media Group. AP is responsible for all content.
Huizhong Wu and Aniruddha Ghosal, Associated Press