China has announced its first official Covid death in six months as restrictions are reinstated in Beijing and other cities struggling to contain multiple outbreaks.
The National Health Commission said an 87-year-old Beijing man died from the virus on Saturday, the first reported death since May during the outbreak in Shanghai, the Associated Press reported.
Two more deaths were reported on Sunday, a 91-year-old woman and an 88-year-old man.
The official death toll in the country of 1.4 billion is now about 5,230, compared to more than 1 million in the US of 331.9 million.
China also announced 24,215 new cases on Sunday, most of which were asymptomatic, bringing the total since the pandemic began in Wuhan to 286,197. The US registered 98.3 million at the same time.
The country claims its tough “zero Covid” approach – which includes strict quarantines and mandatory mass testing – has paid off, but it’s widely believed that Beijing is hiding its true numbers amid the Chinese Communist Party’s reputation for manipulating statistics.
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China’s subjective criteria for determining the cause of death have also been criticized, with underlying conditions such as diabetes or heart disease often attributed to patients with Covid symptoms.
Residents in Beijing’s Chaoyang District were urged to stay home on Monday as nearly 1,000 cases surged while shops, restaurants and other businesses were closed, according to Reuters.
BBC China correspondent Stephen McDonell said while Beijing was not officially in lockdown, the “vast majority” of businesses in Chaoyang were closed and “many businesses and government departments have told staff not to come this week”.
“Business closures etc. have also spread to other parts of Beijing + most schools have switched to online teaching,” he wrote. “Some restaurants offer food delivery. Covid infections continue to rise. Infections detected outside of quarantine have doubled today.”
The announcement of new deaths comes just days after Beijing is reportedly reconsidering its zero-Covid approach – a key policy by President Xi Jinping – which has devastated the economy and sparked growing unrest.
Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million about 300 kilometers from Beijing, is said to have been a pilot zone for lifting all virus restrictions.
But local officials denied those rumors – and have now announced an immediate lockdown after 641 new cases emerged on Sunday.
Schools and universities have been closed and residents asked to stay home for five days, Bloomberg reported. People in high-risk areas have been banned from going outside, while everyone else has been advised to stay at home “in principle”.
According to the AP, despite Beijing’s tight control over information, clashes between residents and authorities have been reported in several cities, which are increasingly fed up.
Quite violent protests erupted in one of China’s biggest cities last week as frustrated locals pushed back.
On Monday, crowds in Guangzhou, the largest city in Guangdong – the southern province that borders Hong Kong – were seen overcoming barriers meant to hold them in place, marching through the streets and overturning vehicles.
The protests followed attempts by authorities to cordon off and imprison workers at a textile factory in Haizhu district. It was one of at least five flare-ups related to Covid restrictions in different parts of the city.
According to the Hong Kong newspaper the South China tomorrow postthe demonstrations were led by migrant workers who had been on the site.
Some workers said they had no money because they could not work and lacked food and medicine.
Online outrage also seeps through China’s internet censorship at times.
Recently, a string of child deaths in downtown Zhengzhou have been traced to harsh virus measures. In one case, a four-month-old girl died after suffering from vomiting and diarrhea in hotel quarantine. Healthcare workers reportedly refused to provide assistance before they were taken to a hospital 100 kilometers away.
The city government responded to the outrage on Sunday by announcing it would no longer require a negative Covid test from infants and young children seeking medical care, the AP reported.
Fear of exposure to brutal Covid enforcement has sparked bizarre scenes in China.
In Zhengzhou last month, hundreds of workers at Apple’s largest iPhone assembly plant scaled walls, scrambled through windows and walked through fields to escape a sudden enforced lockdown.
In Shanghai, around 10,000 visitors suddenly found themselves quarantined within the walls of Disneyland. It took three negative antibody tests over three days before they were allowed out.
Meanwhile, Mr Xi was caught in a Covid scare himself after Hong Kong’s leader tested positive on his return from an Asia-Pacific summit days after his meeting with the Chinese president and other world leaders.
John Lee visited Thailand’s capital Bangkok last week to attend a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum. His office said he tested negative on rapid antigen tests on all four days he was there.
“The CEO is in quarantine in accordance with Center for Health Protection guidelines,” a government statement said.
The APEC summit was Mr Lee’s first trip abroad since the pandemic began nearly three years ago, as well as his first since he took office as Hong Kong’s chief executive in July.
Lee met with Chinese President Xi, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Vietnamese President Nguyen Phuc and several other senior officials at the forum.
At the informal summit of leaders on Friday, Lee sat between Xi and Widodo, all three unmasked.
The trip was aimed in part at reviving Hong Kong’s status as a regional financial hub after the city was effectively cut off from the rest of the world by the pandemic due to strict quarantine requirements for incoming travellers.
The government has eased restrictions in recent months, scrapping mandatory hotel quarantine and reducing the number of mandatory tests for arrivals.
Masking remains mandatory in public places, and residents must check-in at dining and entertainment venues via a government-run app.
Mr Lee’s office said he will continue to work from home during his mandatory isolation period and that members of his staff who traveled with him have tested negative.
– With AFP
Originally released as China claims first Covid death in six months as restrictions return