China announces first COVID-19 death in almost six months

China announces first COVID-19 death in almost six months

China announced its first new death from COVID-19 on Sunday, the first 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 springtime surge in cases.

China on Sunday announced 24,215 new cases detected over the previous 24 hours, the vast majority of them asymptomatic.

While China has an overall vaccination rate of more than 92% having received at least one dose, that number is considerably lower among the elderly -- particularly those over age 80 -- where it falls to just 65%. The commission did not give details on the vaccination status of the latest 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.

China says its tough approach has paid off in much lower numbers of cases and deaths than in other countries.

With a population of 1.4 billion, China has officially reported just 286,197 cases since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. That compares to 98.3 million cases and 1 million deaths for the US, with its population of 331.9 million, since the virus first appeared there in 2020.

China's figures have come under question, however, based on the ruling Communist Party's long-established reputation for manipulating statistics, the lack of outside scrutiny and a highly subjective criteria for determining cause of death.

Unlike in other countries, the deaths of patients who presented COVID-19 symptoms were often attributed to underlying conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, obscuring the real number of deaths from the virus and almost certainly leading to an undercount.

Critics pointed especially to this year's outbreak in Shanghai. The city of more than 25 million only reported about two dozen coronavirus deaths despite an outbreak that spanned more than two months and infected hundreds of thousands of people in the world’s third-largest city.

China has also defied advice from the World Health Organization to adopt a more targeted prevention strategy. Beijing has resisted calls to cooperate fully with the investigation into the origin of the virus, angrily rejecting suggestions it may have leaked from a Wuhan lab, seeking to turn such accusations on the US military instead.