China Zero-Covid: Beijing reports first deaths in nearly 6 months as cases surge

Hong Kong

China has reported the first death of Covid-19 patients in nearly six months as the country struggles to contain a surge in cases in several cities that is testing the limits of its tough zero-Covid strategy.

On Monday, China’s National Health Commission reported two deaths of Covid-19 patients in Beijing for Sunday, after an 87-year-old man died in the capital on Saturday.

The country is facing a surge in cases, according to the National Health Commission. 26,824 new infections were reported on Sunday – the highest daily number since mid-April and the sixth straight day above 20,000.

Ahead of this weekend, China’s latest Covid-19-related death occurred on May 26 in Shanghai, which was under lockdown for two months until June due to a major outbreak.

China is the last major economy in the world still enforcing strict zero-Covid measures aimed at eradicating chains of transmission through border restrictions, mass testing, extensive quarantines and rapid lockdowns of neighborhoods or entire cities — sometimes for months.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government announced limited easing of its zero-Covid policy. Deterring unnecessary mass testing and over-zealous classification of restricted “high-risk” areas. It has also eliminated quarantine requirements for secondary close contacts, reducing the time close contacts and international arrivals must spend in quarantine.

Following the announcement, several Chinese cities canceled mass Covid testing, but tight restrictions imposed by local authorities to contain outbreaks remain in place.

In the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, authorities on Monday imposed a five-day lockdown on Baiyun, the city’s most populous district of 3.7 million people and home to one of the country’s busiest international airports.

The city is the epicenter of China’s ongoing outbreak, having reported tens of thousands of cases this month and locked down several counties. Last week, some residents revolted against an extended lockdown, tearing down barriers and marching through the streets.

People wait for a swab test at a Covid-19 testing center in Beijing, China, November 20, 2022.

In Beijing, schools in several districts switched to online classes on Monday as authorities reported 962 infections for Sunday, up from 621 the previous day. In Chaoyang, the hardest-hit district and home to many international companies and embassies, the district government urged residents to stay home over the weekend as scores of restaurants, gyms, beauty salons and other facilities were closed.

The rising case numbers and associated controls have prompted more residents across China to question the cost of zero Covid measures.

For citizens trapped in lockdown, recurring problems such as access to immediate medical care or adequate food and supplies, or the loss of jobs and income have consistently resulted in hardship and tragedy, including numerous deaths believed to have caused them related to delayed access to medical care.

In downtown Zhengzhou, the death of a 4-month-old girl in hotel quarantine last week sparked a nationwide outcry – the second death of a child under Covid restrictions this month.

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