China reports first COVID deaths since January 2021

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China has announced its first confirmed COVID-19 deaths in more than a year, amid an Omicron-fulled surge of cases in the country’s northeast.

The two deaths were both reported on Saturday in Jilin province, bringing the country’s coronavirus death toll to 4,638.

It marks the first increase in China’s death toll since January 26, 2021, as the country battles an Omicron-driven surge of disease.

The deaths bring the country’s coronavirus death toll to 4,638.

China reported 4,051 new cases on Saturday, down from 4,365 the day before, the National Health Commission said.

The country where the coronavirus first emerged in late 2019 has largely curbed its spread thanks to a combination of border controls, lengthy quarantines and strict lockdowns targeted mostly on buildings where cases have been confirmed but sometimes involving entire neighbourhoods, towns and cities.

With the Omicron variant proving the biggest test yet of the country’s “zero-COVID” strategy, tens of millions of people across the country are living under stay-home orders.

Jilin has imposed a travel ban, with residents needing police permission to travel across borders, and built eight “makeshift hospitals” and two quarantine centres to deal with the surge in infections.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Thursday that the country would “stick with” its zero-COVID strategy despite the increase in cases.

Speaking at a meeting of China’s top leaders, Xi said the country should “continue to put people and life at the forefront, stick with scientific accuracy and dynamic-zero, and curb the spread of the epidemic as soon as possible,” state broadcaster CCTV reported.

The southern city of Hong Kong is currently struggling to control its worst-ever outbreak of the disease, which poses a serious risk to the territory’s elderly population, many of whom are unvaccinated.

Its death rate is currently one of the world’s highest with 5,401 deaths since the pandemic began, 96 percent of them since the latest outbreak began on December 31, according to government data.