On July 17, in his video address for the press conference of the Ministry of Health of Kazakhstan in Nur-Sultan, Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO Regional Director for Europe, noted the following: “Having received over the past few months new knowledge about the COVID-19 infection and measures to combat it, the WHO has introduced new codes to classify this disease. There have been reports from Kazakhstan of a marked increase in cases of pneumonia, one of the explanations of which is COVID-19.”
Dr. Kluge thanked Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Health for agreeing to confirm the possibility of testing in the WHO reference laboratories. As such, it has been confirmed that there is no new dangerous infection in Kazakhstan; all previously reported cases of detected pneumonia according to the WHO classification relate to COVID-19. Earlier, some foreign media outlets mistakenly indicated the appearance in Kazakhstan of some unknown disease. This caused a substantial commotion in the world.
Kazakhstan immediately turned to the World Health Organisation for assistance. After careful examination of the information, the WHO confirmed the summer outbreak of pneumonia in Kazakhstan as a result of COVID-19. The peculiarity of this pneumonia is that all cases have a negative PCR test result, but have clinical and epidemiological signs of coronavirus. Furthermore, according to the statement of Caroline Clarinval, the head of the WHO office in Kazakhstan, an additional group of experts of the Organisation will come to Kazakhstan.
Consequently, Kazakhstan is working closely with the WHO in the framework of the fight against the epidemic. Regular working consultations with the Organisation are helping Kazakhstan to adjust the methodology for reporting the development of the epidemic and to determine its various forms. Until now, only laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Kazakhstan, as in most countries.
The situation is as follows – towards the end of June, a marked increase in viral pneumonia was observed in the country without specifying the pathogen, that is, unconfirmed in the laboratory. This, in turn, enhances the international practice of combatting the epidemic, as the new coronavirus has not yet been fully studied, and all of its possible signs are important for its treatment.
Kazakhstan’s experience is likely to be useful for those states where, according to WHO estimates, excess mortality is also currently observed, most likely due to COVID-19. Experts note that similar cases exist not just in Kazakhstan, however other places have their own specifics. From 18th July, COVID-19 morbidity and mortality statistics in Kazakhstan will be compiled from two data sources: laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 and unspecified viral pneumonia. This will automatically lead to an increase in the number of confirmed cases.
But this approach for reporting cases will make it possible to make correct forecasts of the incidence rate, adequately plan the necessary resources: medical personnel, beds, medical equipment, medicines, as well as ensure the transparency of statistics. A complete transition in Kazakhstan to the COVID-19 coding using the new codes of the international classification of diseases will be carried out from 1st of August.
The Government of Kazakhstan is well aware that this switch to a new methodology and the publication of new combined statistics will lead to a deterioration in Kazakhstan’s position in the international ranking of morbidity and mortality from coronavirus infections.
However, these Government measures emphasise the openness of Kazakhstan and its willingness to jointly confront the coronavirus pandemic and study its consequences in close cooperation with the international community. There is no new explosive increase in the COVID-19 epidemic in Kazakhstan and no critical increase in new cases of illnesses. A sharp change in the country’s position in international statistics, for example by the Johns Hopkins University or worldometer.com, is associated with the technical addition of all cases of pneumonia associated with COVID-19, as per the WHO’s classification.
All cases of illness (confirmed COVID-19 and pneumonic cases) were initially recorded by the healthcare system of Kazakhstan. But due to the fact that there was no evidence of a connection to COVID-19, these cases were not included in the general epidemiological statistics.
Overall, the introduction of quarantine measures from July 5 to August 2 in Kazakhstan resulted in the noticeable stabilisation of the situation regarding the incidence of COVID-19 in the country; the dynamics of the growth of new cases currently remains at the level of 1700-1800 people per day.
According to Dorit Nitzan, the Regional Emergency Director at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, based on the available data, the epidemiological situation in Kazakhstan is noticeably improving. Today, the country is simultaneously carrying out a program of mass testing of the population and is monitoring the fulfilment by the population of basic requirements, such as wearing masks, social distancing and restrictions on group gatherings.