Shanghai reports first official Covid deaths since weeks-long lockdown imposed

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Shanghai reported three Covid-19 deaths on Monday, the first officially announced fatalities following a rampaging outbreak of Omicron that infected hundreds of thousands of people despite a government-imposed citywide lockdown.

Three seniors aged 89 to 91 died from COVID-19 on Sunday after their condition deteriorated in hospital, the Shanghai municipal health commission said in a statement on Monday.

All three were unvaccinated and had underlying health conditions such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, officials said.

The city reported 2,417 symptomatic cases and 19,831 asymptomatic infections on Monday, down slightly from the previous day, according to the health commission.

The death toll appears surprisingly low compared to the large number of cases – since March 1 more than 370,000 people in Shanghai have been infected, and according to the official tally, no one had died of Covid until Sunday.

By comparison, the region’s other financial hub, Hong Kong, recorded almost 9,000 Covid deaths out of 1.18 million total cases in January this year.

Experts have attributed Hong Kong’s high death toll to its high proportion of unvaccinated elderly people. By early March, only 48% of people aged 70 or over had received two doses. And at the start of this year, only 25% of residents aged 80 or over had been vaccinated.

Shanghai’s low official death toll has raised questions among some experts outside mainland China, especially since vaccination coverage for the elderly in Shanghai is not much higher than that of Hong Kong.

On Monday, Shanghai officials said 62% of city residents over the age of 60 had been fully vaccinated and 38% had received a booster shot. The number of fully vaccinated people over the age of 80 was even lower, at just 15 percent, according to Communist Party spokesman People’s Daily.

Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said Shanghai’s low death toll is partly the result of how Covid deaths are counted in mainland China.

“The methods used by Hong Kong and the mainland to calculate deaths are completely different. Over 90% of Covid deaths reported in Hong Kong will not be counted on the mainland,” he said.

In Hong Kong, a person is considered dead from Covid if they were confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus less than 28 days before their death – even if they died of suicide or a traffic accident , said Jin.

“On the mainland, if the deceased had underlying ailments, most of them would be classified as having died of other illnesses instead of Covid,” Jin said.

In Shanghai, the number of officially designated serious cases is also low. According to Wu Jinglei, director of the Shanghai health commission, only 16 serious cases were being treated in the hospital as of Saturday. “One of them has been fully vaccinated, the others have not been vaccinated against Covid-19,” he said.

Chinese health authorities have noted the high proportion of asymptomatic and mild cases in the country’s Omicron outbreak. Wang Guiqiang, an infectious disease doctor in Beijing, told a government press conference on April 6 that this is because the Omicron variant is less virulent, people are being vaccinated, and active testing has detected many cases early, during the incubation period. But Wang warned that Omicron is still dangerous for older people, especially those who haven’t been fully vaccinated.

This is only the second time mainland China has reported Covid deaths this year. Last month, the northeastern province of Jilin reported two deaths – the first in more than a year. Throughout 2021, mainland China has reported only two Covid deaths, both in January.

Chinese officials and state media have attributed the country’s low death toll to the supposed success of its zero-Covid strategy, often contrasting it with the hundreds of thousands of deaths reported in Western countries.

But increasingly, the low official death toll is also raising questions among many Shanghai residents about whether imposing the kind of tough measures that have upended the lives of millions of people.

The reported deaths come as the metropolis of 25 million continues to endure a grueling lockdown, which has brought the vibrant and bustling business center to a virtual standstill.

Residents have been confined to their homes for three weeks and counting, with many complaining of food shortages, a lack of medical access, poor conditions in makeshift quarantine camps and onerous measures such as separating infected children from their parents.

On heavily censored Chinese social media, users have resorted to creative ways to express growing dissatisfaction with the prolonged lockdown, including posting under seemingly irrelevant hashtags that emit veiled criticism or sarcasm. But these hashtags are often censored too after being widely distributed. Warning.

On Sunday, the latest censored hashtag on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, is the first line of China’s national anthem: “Stand Up! These people who refuse to be slaves!


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