China Reports First COVID-19 Deaths in More Than a Year

BEIJING — China’s health authorities reported two COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, the first since January 2021, as the country battles its worst outbreak in two years driven 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.

Jiao Yanhui, a National Health Commission official, said both fatalities were in elderly patients. She said that one of the victims had not received COVID-19 vaccinations.

Jilin was home to the majority of Saturday’s 2,157 new community transmissions. Police have to grant permission for people to cross borders without their consent.

China reported over 29,000 cases nationwide since March 1st.

It has pressed on with its tried-and-true policy of lockdowns and mass testing of millions of people as part of a successful, if burdensome, “zero-COVID” strategy since the initial outbreak in Wuhan in 2019.

The country has seen relatively few infections from the virus so far because clusters are tamped down as quickly as they’re discovered. This strategy is popularly supported and has prevented large numbers of deaths in countries around the world. Many of these have stopped any social distancing.

Officials have pledged to intensify their zero tolerance strategy in order to stop multiple outbreaks throughout China, despite the largest surge since late 2019. However, leader Xi Jinping acknowledged for the first time the burden of the measures on Thursday, saying that China should seek “maximum effect” with “minimum cost” in controlling the virus.

Hong Kong recorded 16583 cases on Saturday. This is the city that’s currently facing the most severe pandemic. The city’s total coronavirus infections exceeded 1 million on Friday, and its number of deaths has already surpassed mainland China’s.

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

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