Chinese Official Warns of Bubonic Plague ‘Risk’ as WHO Says Situation ‘Well Managed’ by China

A World Health Organization logo displayed during an executive board meeting on the coronavirus, Geneva, Switzerland, February 6, 2020 (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Chinese health officials confirmed Tuesday that a case of bubonic plague was diagnosed in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, with the WHO telling reporters that it is “monitoring” the situation “carefully.”

The health commission in Bayannur, a city 500 miles to the west of Beijing, issued a low-level public health warning through the end of the year after it found a case on Sunday, state-run news agency Xinhua reported. Officials also banned the hunting of marmots — a type of ground squirrel that is believed to be the cause of the 1911 pneumonic-plague epidemic, which killed tens of thousands of Chinese.

A city health official warned of the risk of human-to-human transmission, according to state-run media outlet China Daily.

“At present, there is a risk of a human plague epidemic spreading in this city. The public should improve its self-protection awareness and ability, and report abnormal health conditions promptly,” the Bayannur authority said.

Bubonic plague, which caused the deadliest pandemic in history after killing millions worldwide during the Middle Ages, is caused by fleas that live on rodents such as marmots, which are hunted for their fur and sometimes eaten in northwest China and Mongolia. Xinhua has already reported at least three cases of bubonic plague that have been discovered in Mongolia in the last two weeks.

World Health Organization spokeswoman Margaret Harris said in a Tuesday press conference that the situation was being “well managed” by China, and that the WHO did not currently consider it a “high risk.”

“Bubonic plague has been with us and is always with us, for centuries. We are looking at the case numbers in China. It’s being well managed,” she said. “At the moment, we are not considering it high risk but we’re watching it, monitoring it carefully.”

The WHO has faced criticism for its slow reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic amid allegations of a cozy relationship with Beijing.

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