Mainland China reports first coronavirus deaths in over a year as Omicron spreads

HONG KONG — China has reported its first mainland Covid-19 deaths in more than a year as the country battles a wave of Omicron infections across the country.

Two patients have died of Covid-19 in the northeastern province of Jilin, which was hit hard by the Omicron wave, China’s National Health Commission said on Saturday. The deaths, both occurring the day before, are the first fatalities recorded in the country since January 26, 2021.

Earlier in the week, Chinese health officials banned Jilin’s 24 million people from leaving the province, which borders Russia and North Korea, the first time such restrictions have been imposed on an entire province since Hubei province, home to the city of Wuhan, has been locked down. down at the start of the pandemic. Millions of residents of Changchun, the capital of Jilin, have been ordered to stay indoors, allowed to go out once every two days to buy food and other necessities.

The southern manufacturing and technology hub of Shenzhen was also blocked before easing some measures on Thursday.

China recorded 2,157 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases on Friday, health authorities said on Saturday, up from just about 70 local infections earlier this month. The country has recorded a total of around 17,000 new local cases since Sunday, most of them in Jilin.

A food delivery in the Huangpu district of Shanghai.


Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

China, the world’s most populous country, has reported fewer than 5,000 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began in 2020. It has kept the number of infections and deaths low through costly measures and laborious, including strict border controls, targeted lockdowns, mass testing and digital surveillance. .

In recent months, the government has attempted to use more targeted containment measures to mitigate disruptions to the economy.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged on Thursday to bring the epidemic under control, but also to “minimize the impact of the Covid situation on economic and social development”, a first recognition by Chinese leaders of the costs of the strict policies of the government.

The new outbreaks come as the highly contagious variant of Omicron continues to spread in Hong Kong, a Chinese city with its own governance system and a separate tally of Covid-19 cases, where low vaccination coverage among the elderly pushed the city’s death rate past many of the world’s worst pandemic spikes.

Like mainland China, Hong Kong had kept the virus under control until Omicron struck, recording 13,000 cases and 213 deaths in 2020 and 2021 combined. The city of 7.4 million has now recorded more than a million cases, although researchers say many infections during the current wave likely went undetected.

Write to Elaine Yu at [email protected]

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