China reports first Covid deaths in six months amid strict zero-cases policy

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China has reported its first Covid deaths in six months, with officials warning the capital is facing its most severe situation since the pandemic’s start.

Three fatalities have been reported in Beijing since Saturday, bringing the country’s official death toll to 5,229.

The deaths come amid rare protests over China’s zero-Covid policy.

The controversial strategy has seen seen millions locked down and positive citizens forcibly quarantined.

In Beijing, officials have already implemented a lockdown in the Haidian part of the capital, with shops, schools and restaurants closed, and three million people urged to stay at home.

Those travelling to the capital will also have to do tests for the first three days of their visit, and stay inside until they are given the all-clear.

Beijing – a city of more than 21 million – reported 316 new Covid cases to 15:00 on Monday, according to Reuters news agency. Amongst the three deaths reported since Sunday afternoon was an 87-year-old man.

Liu Xiaofeng – the deputy director of Beijing’s municipal Centre for Disease Control and Prevention – described the situation as the most complex and severe yet seen in the city, the news agency added.

A day earlier, a municipality spokesman warned Beijing was facing “a grim and complicated epidemic prevention and control situation”, according to China Daily.

People queue for Covid testing in Beijing
Mass testing and contact tracing is part of China’s zero-Covid strategy

While China says its strict zero-Covid policy means that it has seen far fewer coronavirus deaths than much of the rest of the world – although it is thought the true figure could be far higher – there have been repeated stories of delayed emergency treatment for seriously ill people in locked-down areas or quarantine facilities.

In recent days there has been a swell of outrage online, following reports a baby had died because her medical care had been delayed by Covid restrictions.

Earlier this month there were angry demonstrations in the western city of Lanzhou after a father said delays in getting his toddler son to hospital had contributed to his death from carbon monoxide poisoning. Then in October, there were reports of a 14-year-old girl dying in Henan Province after falling ill in a Covid quarantine centre.

Elsewhere, Hong Kong’s leader, John Lee, has tested positive for Covid, the day after he met Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit in Thailand.

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