The Chinese financial hub of Shanghai said three people infected with Covid-19 died on Sunday (April 17), the first time during the current outbreak that it reported deaths among coronavirus patients.
They were aged between 89 and 91 and all had underlying diseases.
The newly reported deaths are the first since two people died in mid-March in the northeastern province of Jilin.
Those deaths were the first Covid-19 fatalities in more than a year in China, where a strict zero tolerance approach contained the virus until the more infectious Delta and Omicron variants emerged last year.
Suspicions had been growing about potential coronavirus-related deaths, particularly among the elderly, before the announcement.
Two elderly-care facilities in Shanghai have been battling outbreaks triggered by the Omicron variant, and fatalities have occurred, according to the Wall Street Journal, Caixin and other local media.
Until now, no deaths have been reported officially.
The Omicron variant has surged through the population, infecting everyone from a newborn who was just 10 days old to someone nearing 100, according to the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission.
The city reported 19,831 new daily asymptomatic Covid-19 cases on April 17, down from 21,582 on the previous day. New symptomatic cases stood at 2,417, down from 3,238.
This comes as the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper called on the nation to support President Xi Jinping’s Covid Zero strategy, showing any shift in policy is unlikely even as lockdowns in Shanghai and elsewhere threaten to hurt the economy.
In a front-page commentary Monday, the People’s Daily said Mr Xi’s strategy to snuff out the virus has proven "correct and effective" and China should be "uniting more closely around the party’s leadership with Xi Jinping as the core."
Citizens should follow the strategy "unswervingly and unrelentingly" with "earlier, faster, stricter and more practical" measures, it said.
"At present, it is the most difficult critical period for epidemic prevention and control," the People’s Daily commentary said. China can "never let the hard-earned achievements of epidemic prevention and control be wasted," it added.
China is struggling to contain a worsening outbreak that risks weakening growth in the world’s second-largest economy and disrupting global supply chains.
The crisis has turned into one of the biggest tests yet for Mr Xi, who is likely to seek a third five-year term during a Communist Party congress later this year.
More Chinese authorities are heeding Mr Xi’s call to implement stringent movement restrictions to curb the virus.
Over the weekend the western city of Xi’an came under a partial-lockdown for four days.
The central city Zhengzhou also locked down its airport district for two weeks and started mass testing in the area on Monday.
"Practice over the past two years has proven that the general strategy and policy of normalized epidemic prevention and control are correct and effective," People’s Daily said.
It ran a similar front-page commentary defending Mr Xi’s Covid Zero strategy earlier this month, saying the policy is essential to saving lives and keeping the economy going.
Source: The Straits Times
BDST: 1425 HRS, APR 18, 2022