China's embassy in Kazakhstan has warned its citizens to take precautions against an outbreak of pneumonia in the country that it says is more lethal than COVID-19.
It said in a statement on its official WeChat account late on Thursday that there had been a "significant increase" in cases in the cities of Atyrau, Aktobe and Shymkent since mid-June.
On Friday, however, Kazakhstan's healthcare ministry branded Chinese media reports based on the embassy statement as "fake news".
The ministry said its tallies of bacterial, fungal and viral pneumonia infections, which also included cases of unclear causes, were in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.
"The information published by some Chinese media regarding a new kind of pneumonia in Kazakhstan is incorrect," the ministry said.
Kazakhstan, which imposed a second lockdown this week to rein in the pandemic, has a tally of almost 55,000 COVID-19 infections, including 264 deaths. The number of new cases rose on Thursday to a daily record of 1,962.
On Tuesday, state news agency Kazinform said the number of pneumonia cases "increased 2.2 times in June as compared to the same period of 2019".
In its statement, the Chinese embassy had said pneumonia in Kazakhstan killed 1,772 people in the year's first half, with 628 deaths in June, including Chinese citizens.
"The mortality rate of the disease is much higher than that of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus," it said.
It is unclear whether the penumonia it referred to was caused by a virus related to coronavirus or a different strain.
Kazakhstan's health ministry and other health institutions were carrying out a "comparative study", but no conclusions had yet been made, the embassy added.
The Global Times tabloid run by China's People's Daily has said Kazakhstan's foreign ministry "did not respond to questions about the Chinese embassy's warning".