China reported its first death from COVID-19 in eight months on Thursday as the country struggles to contain a resurgence of cases – the most in 10 months – and braces for the arrival of a team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO).
More than 20 million people are stranded in the north of the country and one province has declared an emergency, as the daily number of coronaviruses increases.
China had largely brought the virus outbreak under control through a series of strict lockdowns and mass testing. But 138 more infections were reported by the National Health Commission on Thursday – the most in a single day since March of last year.
Health officials have no details of the latest death except that it occurred in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing where the government has imposed lockdowns on several cities.
According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, at least 885 patients are currently being treated nationwide, 24 of whom are in serious condition.
A total of 82,324 patients have been released, while 4,635 have died, Xinhua said citing China’s National Health Commission since the outbreak began.
Authorities last week launched a mass testing campaign and shut down transportation, schools and shops in Hebei’s capital Shijiazhuang – the epicenter of the latest outbreak.
Katrina Yu of Al Jazeera, reporting from Beijing, said Hebei has also started building new field hospitals to accommodate new admissions.
She added that the latest death and the upsurge in cases had been a “shock” to many, as normal life “seemed to have resumed” in recent months.
Neighboring Xingtai, home to seven million people, has also been on lockdown since last Friday, as have the five million residents of Langfang town.
In a sign of the spread of infections, northeast Heilongjiang declared a “state of emergency” on Wednesday, telling its 37.5 million people not to leave the province unless absolutely necessary and canceled. public gatherings.
As of Thursday, no new deaths have been officially reported in mainland China since May of last year.
The latest death comes as China prepares for a politically sensitive investigation into the origins of the pandemic by a group of WHO experts.
The 10-person team arrived in Wuhan, the city in central China where the virus was first detected in late 2019, on Thursday.
Peter Ben Embarek, team leader for the mission, said the group would start with a two-week quarantine in a hotel due to Chinese border demands.
“And then after the two weeks, we could come and meet our Chinese counterparts in person and go to the different sites that we would like to visit,” he said.
“The idea is to advance a number of studies that were already designed and decided on a few months ago to allow us to better understand what happened,” he said.
WHO long delay probe
The long-delayed trip comes more than a year after the start of the pandemic and amid political tension over claims Beijing tried to thwart the project.
Hung Nguyen, a Vietnamese biologist and member of the 10-member team, told Reuters news agency he did not expect any restrictions on the group’s work in China, but warned of the odds to find firm answers.
Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “very disappointed” that China still did not allow the team to enter for the long-awaited mission, but was congratulated Monday on China’s announcement of their planned arrival.
China launched a story via state media that the virus existed overseas before it was discovered in Wuhan, citing the presence of the coronavirus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers claiming it had circulated in Europe in 2019.
“We are looking here for the answers that could save us in the future – not the culprits or the people to blame,” WHO’s senior emergency specialist Mike Ryan told reporters this week, adding that the WHO was ready to go “anywhere and everywhere. To find out how the virus came about.