China’s national health authorities reported two deaths from the coronavirus on Saturday, the first due to a recorded rise in the death toll since January last year, as the country battles a surge caused by omicron.
The deaths, both in the northeastern province of Jilin, bring the country’s coronavirus death toll to 4,638.
China reported 2,157 new community transmissions on Saturday, the majority of them in Jilin. The province has instituted a travel ban, with people needing police clearance to cross borders.
China has continued to impose a “zero-Covid” strategy since the initial outbreak in Wuhan. The strategy focuses on mass testing and strict lockdowns, with residents banned from leaving their homes until all new cases are found in quarantine or through contact tracing.
A police officer wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) carries food and daily supplies
China is mobilizing to control the latest Covid epidemic.
With China now facing its worst outbreak since late 2019, officials have pledged to double down on the zero-tolerance strategy to contain the current outbreak.
However, the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, for the first time acknowledged the weight of the measures on Thursday, saying that China should seek a “ maximum effect” with a “minimum cost” in controlling the virus.
China had recorded 4,636 deaths since the start of the pandemic in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019. It revised its toll once in April 2020, adding new deaths that were not initially counted as the pandemic overwhelmed the hospitals and other city systems.
Mainland China’s Covid-19 data is counted separately from that of Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region of China and faces a much larger outbreak with a higher death toll.
On Friday, the Hong Kong leader warned against “dividing comments” over health workers sent by China to help contain Covid, as tensions over their deployment have complicated efforts to control a spiraling outbreak.
On Friday, the financial hub surpassed one million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with nearly 5,500 deaths recorded in a population of 7.4 million, one of the highest death rates in the developed world.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and her administration have been widely criticized for the city’s lack of preparedness for the wave fueled by Omicron, which has overwhelmed hospitals and morgues.
China sent around 400 healthcare workers this week to bolster the ranks of Hong Kong’s anti-pandemic staff, a move made possible after licensing requirements for non-local doctors were lifted.