China reported two Covid-19 deaths on Saturday, the first in more than a year, underscoring the threat posed by the Omicron outbreak that has triggered the country’s highest number of cases since the outbreak began.
The National Health Commission said both deaths occurred in Jilin, the worst-hit northeast province hit by an increase in cases across the country resulting in closures or tight restrictions in some cities.
The deaths were the first reported in mainland China since January 2021, bringing the country’s total death toll in the outbreak to 4,638.
In all, China reported 4,051 new cases on Saturday, down from 4,365 the previous day, the health commission said, with more than half of the new cases coming in Jilin.
Beijing’s communist leadership has touted its low death rate compared to other countries as proof of the strength of its one-party model of governance.
The two new deaths have been buried in health commission daily reports, and the government -controlled media has made no mention of them.
‘Zero-covid’ under pressure
The coronavirus appeared in downtown Wuhan in late 2019 but China largely kept it under control through tight border controls, lengthy quarantine and targeted closures.
But the highly contagious Omicron variant poses heavy challenges to the effectiveness and long-term viability of the government’s “zero-Covid” strategy.
In recent weeks several official sources have suggested China may at some point need to co-exist with Covid-19 as other countries have done, while also warning of the economic impact of a massive shutdown.
President Xi Jinping said on Thursday that China would stick to its zero-Covid strategy, while also allowing for a more “targeted” approach.
While in the past full closures could be expected for any outbreak, authorities across the country have responded with various measures against the latest spread of the virus.
Several cities have been closed, including Shenzhen’s southern tech hub, which houses 17.5 million people. But Shenzhen’s move was partially eased following Xi’s comments.
Shanghai, meanwhile, has moved online schooling and launched a massive test, but has avoided a full closure.
Authorities also say that people with mild cases can be isolated at a central quarantine facility, having previously sent all patients with any symptoms to a specialist hospital.
But tens of millions of people remain under home stay orders across China as an outbreak that has sent daily reports of new cases soared from less than 100 just three weeks ago to several thousand a day now.
Beijing has also watched with trepidation as Hong Kong struggled to contain the Omicron outbreak that has left deaths in the semi -autonomous city of southern China rising to thousands.
Mainland Chinese officials have also moved to evacuate hospital beds for fear the virus could put the health system under pressure.
Jilin has built eight “temporary hospitals” and two quarantine centers to curb the current increase.
National news newspapers this week published footage of dozens of giant cranes installing temporary medical facilities in Jilin, which only has about 23,000 hospital beds for about 24 million residents.
The latest emergence has also prompted long queues to form outside large-scale test sites across China and saw tight controls at ports, raising concerns of trade disruptions.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)