Kazakhstan on Friday dismissed China’s claims that a pneumonia deadlier than the Covid-19 had been spreading in the Central Asian country and that Chinese citizens there should guard against the illness, Reuters reported. Covid-19 or the disease caused by the novel coronavirus is believed to have originated in Wuhan city in China late last year.

In a WeChat post on Thursday evening, the Chinese embassy reported a “significant increase” in pneumonia cases in the Kazakh cities of Atyrau, Aktobe and Shymkent since mid-June. But on Friday, Kazakhstan’s healthcare ministry called the Chinese report “fake news”.

“The death rate of this disease is much higher than the novel coronavirus,” the Chinese embassy told its citizens in Kazakhstan, according to the South China Morning Post. “The country’s health departments are conducting comparative research into the pneumonia virus, but have yet to identify the virus.” The Chinese embassy claimed that so far there have been nearly 500 pneumonia cases in Atyrau, Aktobe and Shymkent.

“The information published by some Chinese media regarding a new kind of pneumonia in Kazakhstan is incorrect,” the Kazakh healthcare ministry said. The ministry added that its counts of bacterial, fungal and viral pneumonia infections, as well as infections from unclear causes, adhered to guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

However, on July 7, Kazakhstan’s official news agency Kazinform had said that the number of pneumonia cases increased 2.2 times in June this year as compared to the same period in 2019. Kazinform said there were over 200 hospitalisations per day in June. Pneumonia has been commonly seen in coronavirus patients.

The former Soviet republic has reported 54,747 cases of the coronavirus so far, including 264 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University. On Thursday, the country recorded the highest single-day spike of 1,962 infections.