COVID-19: China reports first coronavirus deaths in more than a year as surge in highly transmissible omicron variants

BEIJING — China’s health authorities on Saturday reported two COVID-19 deaths, the first since January 2021, as the country battles its worst outbreak in two years, caused by a surge in the highly transmissible omicron variant.

The deaths, both in northeastern Jilin province, bring the country’s coronavirus death toll to 4,638.

Both deaths occurred in elderly patients and were the result of their underlying diseases, Jiao Yahui, an official with the National Health Commission, said in a news conference on Saturday. One of them was not vaccinated against COVID-19, she said.

The majority of the 2,157 new community broadcasts reported on Saturday came from Jilin. The province has imposed a travel ban, with people requiring police approval to travel across the borders.
Nationwide, China has reported more than 29,000 confirmed cases since early March.

Since the initial outbreak in Wuhan in 2019, it has continued its proven policy of lockdown and mass testing of millions of people as part of a successful, albeit onerous, “zero-COVID” strategy.

The country has seen relatively few infections with the virus so far because clusters are suppressed as quickly as they are discovered. The strategy has garnered popular support and prevented the large number of deaths in other countries, many of which have begun to abandon any form of social distancing measures.

Faced with the worst spike since late 2019, officials have promised to double down on the zero-tolerance policy to contain multiple outbreaks across China. But Chinese leader Xi Jinping first acknowledged the burden of the measures on Thursday, saying China should aim for “maximum impact” at “minimum cost” in fighting the virus.

Hong Kong, which is facing the worst surge in the pandemic, recorded 16,583 new cases on Saturday. The total number of coronavirus infections in the city surpassed 1 million on Friday, and the death toll has already surpassed that of mainland China.

Mainland China’s COVID-19 data is counted separately from Hong Kong, a special administrative region.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. COVID-19: China reports first coronavirus deaths in more than a year as surge in highly transmissible omicron variants

Dais Johnston

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