China reports more Covid deaths as infections rise

China reports more Covid deaths as infections rise


China on Monday reported two new deaths from Covid-19, both among elderly Beijing residents, as several major cities continued to observe strict virus restrictions despite a much-vaunted recent easing.

As the latest major economy to commit to a zero-Covid policy, Chinese authorities have continued to impose rapid lockdowns, mass testing and lengthy quarantines in response to emerging outbreaks.

Despite the central government this month announcing its most significant easing of measures yet, authorities in many areas have stuck to tight restrictions as the number of new cases has soared.

Monday’s deaths involved a 91-year-old woman with a history of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease and an 88-year-old man with a history of cancer, bronchitis and stroke, local authorities said.

On Sunday, Beijing announced China’s first Covid death since May, an 87-year-old man whose mild case worsened after contracting a bacterial infection.

New cases in the capital rose to 962 on Monday from 621 the previous day as authorities maintained a patchwork of restrictions to quell emerging flares.

Nearly 600 areas of the city are currently considered “high-risk,” a designation that typically requires residents to isolate in their housing units for several days or move to government quarantine facilities.

Schools in some neighborhoods have been ordered to move classes online and office workers have been ordered to work from home.

Hard curbs have also been in place in cities like the southern industrial hub of Guangzhou — where tens of thousands of new cases have emerged over the past week — and northern Shijiazhuang, where officials have ordered residents in six districts to undergo mass testing.

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As of Monday, China recorded around 27,000 new domestic cases, according to the National Health Commission — a tiny fraction of its massive population but a steep increase for a country used to numbers in the tens or low hundreds.

While the zero-Covid policy has generally kept new cases low, the approach has been tested in recent months by the emergence of virus variants that are spreading faster than officials can extinguish them.

The strategy has also stifled economic growth, isolated Beijing on the international stage and even sparked rare protests in a country where dissent is routinely repressed.

Earlier this month, the government issued 20 rules to “optimize” zero-Covid, shorten quarantine periods for overseas arrivals and simplify a transmission risk assessment system, among other tweaks.

Several Chinese cities then canceled routine mass Covid testing, fueling hopes of an eventual reopening.

But Asian markets fell on Monday as Sunday’s death of Covid sparked fears officials would reintroduce tough, economically painful restrictions.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell nearly 2 percent, extending a sell-off late last week, while Shanghai was also down.

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