The Union health ministry said on Friday that India is at a low risk of being infected by a reported outbreak of H9N2 influenza, a subtype of bird flu virus, in China.

In a statement, the ministry also said that it is closely monitoring a recent uptick in respiratory illnesses and pneumonia among children in the neighbouring country.

Since mid-October, China has been experiencing an increase in cases of influenza-like illnesses compared with the same period in the preceding three years, when strict measures were in force a part of the country’s zero-Covid strategy.

In its statement, the health ministry cited the World Health Organization’s risk assessment of the situation which “indicates a low probability of human to human spread and low case fatality rate among human cases of H9N2 reported to WHO so far”.

However, the global health body has not specifically mentioned about the outbreak of H9N2 but has sought information on rising influenza-like illnesses and cases of pneumonia from Beijing.

Addressing the clusters of children with respiratory illnesses that have emerged more recently in north China, the ministry said that no “unusual pathogen or any unexpected clinical manifestations” have been reported among them.

This clarification follows a WHO statement on Wednesday, which read, “[Chinese] authorities attributed this increase to the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions and the circulation of known pathogens such as influenza, mycoplasma pneumoniae [a common bacterial infection which typically affects younger children], respiratory syncytial virus, and SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes Covid-19].” This statement did not mention the H9N2 influenza outbreak.

The Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, a surveillance system on disease breaks, first reported clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children in northern China on Monday, after Chinese authorities from the National Health Commission held a press conference on November 13 to report an increase in the incidence of respiratory diseases.

The World Health Organization had repeatedly criticised the Chinese government over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, saying that the authorities were under-representing the true impact of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

In 2019, the first cases of what later turned out to be Covid-19 were initially reported as viral pneumonia.

Also read: WHO asks China for information about rise in respiratory illnesses, pneumonia outbreaks