SHANGHAI, China – Mainland China reported its first COVID-19 deaths in more than a year on Saturday, March 19, according to a post on the National Health Commission’s website that said two people died in the northeastern region of Jilin.
The striking news – China reported only two COVID deaths for all of 2021, the last on January 25 – comes as the country battles its most widespread outbreak to date, maintaining its zero-tolerance approach using “dynamic clearance” – short shutdowns and rapid testing where cases are found.
Jilin, bordering North Korea and Russia, is at the heart of the current wave, with case numbers make up over two thirds of total domestic infections.
The latest deaths raised the total number of victims reported since the pandemic began to to 4,638. The country reported 2,228 new confirmed coronavirus cases on March 18, 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% appearing in Jilin and others found in the southeastern 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. As of March 18, mainland China had confirmed 128,462 cases overall.
The first casualties in more than a year quickly caught the social media spotlight.
“Two new COVID deaths in Jilin” was a top trending topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, with many expressing a desire for more information on the two victims.
“For what reason did this (the deaths) happen? (the details) should be released in a timely way,” said one social media user.
Others voiced their support for China’s zero-COVID policy.
“In relation to ‘lying flat’, herd immunity, even opening up to allow people to exercise, this is not going to work,” said another person on Weibo. – Rappler.com