Beijing, Apr 18 (EFE).- Shanghai reported its first three Covid-19 deaths since the business hub started a rigid lockdown on March 28 in a bid to curb its worst outbreak since the pandemic began.
Health authorities said the deceased, between 89 and 91 years of age, were unvaccinated and had underlying health issues.
Despite China’s zero Covid-19 policy, authorities are grappling with low vaccination rates among older people, who are also especially vulnerable to the disease.
In Shanghai, a city of 26 million, only 38% of over 60s (2.18 million) have received the full Covid-19 vaccination course and booster jab, municipal health commission chief Wu Jinglei said Sunday.
Health authorities announced the death toll as the city entered its fourth week in lockdown, during which over 320,000 covid infections, most of them asymptomatic, have been recorded.
Sixteen patients are struggling with serious infections in Shanghai, most of them are unvaccinated older people with existing conditions including “acute coronary syndrome, diabetes, hypertension, cerebral infarction sequelae,” the state-run Global Times newspaper reported.
Shanghai’s inexistent death toll, until Monday’s first figures, raised questions among experts who wondered how the city had averted deaths amid a soaring caseload prompting some to draw comparisons with the city of Wuhan, the pandemic’s ground zero in 2019, where local authorities revised the number of deaths from 2,575 to 3,869 from one day to the next.
Footage has surfaced on social media of desperate residents who have reportedly struggled to get hold of basic goods and food and fear being sent to isolation centers.
Although criticism of Beijing’s stringent measures is mounting, authorities have defended the strict protocols and have argued that the Omicron variant of coronavirus could cause hundreds of deaths and collapse healthcare facilities if left uncontrolled.
Authorities announced a new round of mass testing for confined Shanghai residents Monday, which will see tests underway for the next 21 days in condos where residents have tested positive for Covid.
Health officials recorded 2,417 symptomatic cases in Shanghai Monday, in addition to 19,831 asymptomatic cases, as cases continued on the rise in much of mainland China including in Jilin (northeast, 166), Zhejiang (southeast, 34), Heilongjiang (northeast, 30) and Guangzhou (south, 25).
In a public letter, China’s health minister Ma Xiaowei urged the nation to rally behind the zero-case strategy.
“We are far from being able to breathe a sigh of relief and take a break,” Ma warned. “The big test continues. There must not be the slightest relaxation. Healthcare systems around the country must remain in an emergency state.”
But lockdowns across the nation are already dragging China’s economy down with stoppages in factories and transport systems, and the threat of bottlenecks in ports and production chains.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He stressed Monday that more efforts were needed to safeguard stable supply chains and improve conditions for industry employees, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Although China’s GDP grew by 4.8% in the first quarter of the year, officials from the National Bureau of Statistics warned Monday of “multiple challenges” caused by the Covid outbreaks.
Retail sales were up by 3.3% year-on-year in the first quarter, largely fueled by online sales which soared by 6.6%.
However, March figures were already dragging growth down with sales of consumer goods contracting by 3.5% in the closing month of the year’s first financial quarter, according to NBS. EFE