China announces first Covid death in 6 months with new rules in place

China: Protesters tear down covid barricades in Guangzhou

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China today announced its first new official death from COVID-19 in nearly six months — with officials bringing in strict new public health measures in Beijing as well as nationwide. The death — of an 87-year-old man — is the first to have been reported by the National Health Commission since May 26, bringing China’s total reported death toll to 5,227. Also today, officials reported that 24,215 new cases had been detected in the previous 24 hours, the majority of which are understood to be asymptomatic. In contrast to the approach of most other countries, China has adopted a rigid “zero-COVID” policy which has aimed to eliminate outbreaks through the extensive use of contact tracing, lockdowns, mass testing, quarantines and border closures.

It is thought that China’s approach may be motivated in part by low vaccination rates among its senior citizens — with only 65 percent of those aged 80 and over having received at least one dose. (For comparison, the overall vaccination rate across the age groups is around 92 percent.)

Regardless, the aggressive measures have proved disruptive to both the national economy — with Mainland China shares pushing lower as Covid’s toll raises concerns — and also the populace, with public anger visibly rising at the approach taken by the authorities, despite the nation’s equally tight censorship.

Nevertheless, Beijing has largely stuck to its guns, dismissing advice from the World Health Organization to adopt a more focussed, and less broadly disruptive stratagem for dealing with the pandemic. Chinese officials have also been accused of being less-than-fully cooperative towards the investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — and have been particularly vociferous in their rejection of the suggestion the original outbreak was caused by a leak from a laboratory.

According to the Chinese authorities, their zero-tolerance approach has resulted in significantly lower case and mortality numbers in comparison with other countries. Despite having a population of 1.4 billion, China has only reported 286,197 cases in total since 2019. 

For comparison, as of last Thursday, the UK has reported 20,248,860 cases and 172,376 deaths for a population of some 68.7 million people. The US, meanwhile, with a population of 331.9 million, has reported 98.3 million cases and one million deaths.

The accuracy of China’s reported statistics have been called into question. Critics, for example, have highlighted how unlikely it seems that the outbreak in Shanghai earlier this year led to only two deaths despite an outbreak that lasted two months.

In fact, estimates from medical experts at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for example, suggest that something closer to 3.3 million cases and 15,800 deaths might be more accurate.However, these figures, while worse than those officially reported, are still significantly lower than the equivalent for the UK and the US, even before population size is taken into account.

A couple of notable, if slight, policy shifts recently have been linked to tragedies involving the potentially avoidable deaths of young children from non-Covid causes — with medical assistance having been rendered impossible by zero-Covid measures.

In the city of Lanzhou in the northwest of China, a three-year-old boy died from carbon monoxide poisoning after healthcare workers allegedly attempted to stop his father from taking him to hospital to seek treatment.

Following this, a four-year-old girl in Zhengzhou who was suffering from bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting is reported to have died in a quarantine hotel after healthcare workers initially refused to provide assistance and subsequently sent the child to a hospital some 60 miles distant — leading to an 11 hour delay in medical help being administered.

Following online backlash — which included calls for officials in the city to be punished — the local authorities announced that they would no longer be requiring negative Covid tests for those aged under three and “special groups” seeking urgent health care.”

On Twitter this morning, Hu Xijin — a commentator with the state-owned Global Times — said: “The epidemic in China is already severe,with 24,000+ new infections in a single day, and [the] situation in Beijing is also serious.But Beijing has not been in lockdown on a large scale. This time, China is hopeful to find a new way to break through the siege of Omicron with few deaths.”

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Despite this, residents in Beijing have reportedly been told not to travel between districts within the city. At the same time, a significant number of shops, restaurants, offices, schools and residential complexes have either been closed or isolated. Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control deputy director Liu Xiaofeng, said: “The number of cases discovered outside quarantine is increasing rapidly at present.

“There are hidden transmission risks from multiple places. The pressure on Beijing has further increased.” On Twitter this morning, Hu Xijin — a commentator with the state-owned Global Times — said: “The epidemic in China is already severe,with 24,000+ new infections in a single day, and [the] situation in Beijing is also serious.

“But Beijing has not been in lockdown on a large scale. This time, China is hopeful to find a new way to break through the siege of Omicron with few deaths.” Despite this, residents in Beijing have reportedly been told not to travel between districts within the city. At the same time, a significant number of shops, restaurants, offices, schools and residential complexes have either been closed or isolated.

Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control deputy director Liu Xiaofeng, said: “The number of cases discovered outside quarantine is increasing rapidly at present. There are hidden transmission risks from multiple places. The pressure on Beijing has further increased.”

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