BEIJING: China on Sunday (Nov 20) announced its first new death from COVID-19 in nearly half a year as strict new measures are imposed in Beijing and across the country to ward against new outbreaks.
The death of the 87-year-old Beijing man was the first reported by the National Health Commission since May 26, bringing the total death toll to 5,227. The previous death was reported in Shanghai, which underwent a major surge in cases over the summer.
While China has an overall vaccination rate of more than 92 per cent having received at least one dose, that number is considerably lower among the elderly, particularly those over age 80. The commission did not give details on the vaccination status of the deceased.
That vulnerability is considered one reason why China has mostly kept its borders closed and is sticking with its rigid “zero-COVID” policy that seeks to wipe out infections through lockdowns, quarantines, case tracing and mass testing, despite the impact on normal life and the economy and rising public anger at the authorities.
In a partial response, the central city of Zhengzhou said Sunday it will no longer require a negative COVID-19 test from infants under age 3 and other “special groups” seeking health care.
The announcement by the Zhengzhou city government came after a second child’s death was blamed on overzealous anti-virus enforcement. The 4-month-old girl died after suffering vomiting and diarrhea while in quarantine at a hotel in Zhengzhou.
Reports said it took her father 11 hours to get help after health care workers refused to provide assistance and she finally was sent to a hospital 100km away. Internet users expressed anger at “zero COVID” and demanded officials in Zhengzhou be punished for failing to help the public.
That follows an earlier outcry over a 3-year-old boy’s death from carbon monoxide poisoning in the north-west. His father blamed health workers in the city of Lanzhou, who he said tried to stop him from taking his son to a hospital.
Other cases include a pregnant woman who miscarried after she was refused entry to a hospital in the north-western city of Xi'an and forced to sit outside in the cold for hours.
Each such case brings promises from the ruling Communist Party - most recently last week - that people in quarantine or who can't show negative test results wouldn’t be blocked from getting emergency help.
Yet, the party has often found itself unable to rein in stringent and often unauthorized measures imposed by local officials who fear losing their jobs or facing prosecution if outbreaks occur in areas under their jurisdiction.
Nearly three years into the pandemic, while the rest of the world has largely opened up and the impact on the Chinese economy rises, Beijing has mostly kept its borders closed and discouraged travel even within the country.
In the capital Beijing, residents were told not to travel between city districts, and large numbers of restaurants, shops, malls, office buildings and apartment blocks have been closed or isolated.
China on Sunday announced 24,215 new cases, the vast majority of them asymptomatic.