Watch: Hundreds pack waiting area at Chinese children's hospital after surge in respiratory illness
New footage has been released which shows the impact of the recent surge in respiratory illnesses among children in China.
Hundreds of people are seen queuing up for treatment at a hospital in Beijing in the video obtained by the Reuters news agency.
The clip was recorded at the Beijing Children's Hospital as China struggles with an increase in respiratory infections in its first full winter since it eased coronavirus restrictions.
Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) asked Chinese authorities to explain the surge after the spike in cases.
China has since insisted that the increase is because of the flu and other known pathogens, and not by a novel virus, amid fears of an outbreak similar to COVID-19.
But its health ministry has called on local authorities to increase the number of fever clinics as some of the country's hospitals continue to treat an overwhelming number of patients.
There has been a marked rise in respiratory illnesses and pneumonia in children.
Cases among children are appearing especially high in northern areas like Beijing and Liaoning province, where hospitals are warning of long waits.
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In the footage from the children's hospital, obtained at the weekend, hundreds of people crowd around the waiting desks at the hospital.
Last week, ProMed - a global information network that monitors global disease outbreaks and was one of the first groups to raise the alarm about coronavirus in 2019 - said hospitals in China were being "overwhelmed".
A spokesperson for China's National Health Commission said on Sunday that the increase is being caused by common viruses such as influenza, rhinoviruses, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and adenovirus, as well as bacteria such as mycoplasma pneumoniae - and not by a novel virus.
Ministry spokesperson Mi Feng called for more local fever centres to cope with the increase in cases.
“Efforts should be made to increase the opening of relevant clinics and treatment areas, extend service hours and increase the supply of medicines,” he said.
How does the rise compare to pre-COVID?
However, the spike in respiratory illnesses is not as high as before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a WHO official, who said no new or unusual pathogens had been found in the recent cases.
Maria Van Kerkhove, acting director of the WHO's department of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said the increase appeared to be driven by a rise in the number of children contracting pathogens that they had avoided during two years of COVID restrictions.
"We asked about comparisons prior to the pandemic. And the waves that they’re seeing now, the peak is not as high as what they saw in 2018 to 2019," she said.
"This is not an indication of a novel pathogen. This is expected. This is what most countries dealt with a year or two ago."