China reports Covid-19 deaths for first time since January 2021

Healthcare workers blocking off a locked-down neighbourhood in Shanghai on March 17, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - China reported its first Covid-19 deaths since January 2021 as the Omicron variant continued to spread across the world's most populous nation.

The two deaths were both reported in the north-eastern province of Jilin on Friday (March 18), the National Health Commission said in a statement.

Jilin, which borders North Korea and Russia, is where many of the current wave of infections have been reported. 

China reported two deaths for the whole of 2021, with the last one logged on Jan 25.

The country reported 2,228 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, compared with 2,416 a day earlier.

Of the new cases, 2,157 were locally transmitted, compared with 2,388 a day earlier, with 78 per cent appearing in Jilin and others found in the south-eastern province of Fujian and the southern province of Guangdong among others.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, stood at 1,823 compared with 1,904 a day earlier.

The death toll went up to 4,638.

As at March 18, mainland China had confirmed 128,462 cases.

Although there have been repeated flare-ups and outbreaks in China despite the country's tight curbs - first against the Delta variant, then Omicron - few of those infected had been seriously sick since mid-2021. Many who developed severe symptoms survived, even patients above the age of 60 and those with other underlying diseases.

Most of China's deaths from Covid-19 occurred when the virus was first detected in Wuhan in early 2020. Stringent curbs and mass testing have helped officials stymie Covid-19's spread and identify cases early, while many were sent to designated hospitals for treatment regardless of the severity of their illness.

Nearly 90 per cent of China's 1.4 billion people have been fully vaccinated and more than a third have received booster shots, and Omicron appears increasingly as asymptomatic infections.

Still, officials and health experts have warned about inevitable deaths even from a less virulent variant as widespread infections keep hospitals and medical staff stretched.

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