BEIJING (AP) — China announced the first new death from COVID-19 in nearly half a year on Sunday, as new measures were imposed in Beijing and across the country to prevent further outbreaks.
The death of an 87-year-old man in Beijing was the first reported by the National Health Commission since May 26, bringing the country’s death toll to 5,227. The previous death was reported in Shanghai, which suffered a strong spike in infections in the summer.
Although China has a vaccination rate of more than 92% with at least one dose, the figure is considerably lower among the elderly, especially those over 80. The Commission did not give details on whether the deceased was vaccinated.
That vulnerability is believed to be one reason China has maintained restrictions at its borders and abides by its strict “zero COVID” policy, which aims to eradicate contagion through quarantines, lockdowns, contact tracing and mass testing, despite to the impact on daily life and the economy, and to growing public discontent with the authorities.
In a partial response, the central city of Zhengzhou said on Sunday that it would no longer require a negative COVID-19 test for children under 3 years of age or other “special groups” seeking medical attention.
The Zhengzhou municipal government’s announcement came after the death of a second child was blamed on over-enforcement of anti-virus measures. The 4-month-old girl died after suffering from vomiting and diarrhea while in quarantine at a Zhengzhou hotel.
It reportedly took her father 11 hours to get medical attention after medical personnel refused to help, and she was eventually sent to a hospital 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. People expressed their outrage online over the “zero COVID” measures and demanded that the authorities in Zhengzhou be punished for failing to help the population.
The case follows an earlier scandal over the death of a three-year-old boy from carbon monoxide poisoning in the Northwest. His father blamed health workers in the city of Lanzhou, who he said had tried to prevent him from taking his son to a hospital.
Other cases that have sparked outrage include a pregnant woman who miscarried after being denied access to a hospital in the northwestern city of Xi’am and forced to sit outside in the cold for hours.
The Communist Party, which rules the country, promised last week, as it has done after each of those cases, that emergency care would not be denied to people in quarantine or who could not show a negative result.
However, the party has often been unable to control the often unauthorized, harsh measures imposed by local officials who fear they will lose their jobs or be prosecuted if outbreaks occur under their jurisdiction.
Nearly three years after the pandemic began, the rest of the world has largely reopened and the impact on the Chinese economy is mounting. Beijing has kept its borders virtually closed and advises against travel even within the country.
In the capital Beijing, people were told not to move between districts of the city and many restaurants, shops, malls, office buildings and apartment blocks were closed or isolated.
China reported 24,215 new cases on Sunday, the vast majority asymptomatic.