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China reports first COVID-19 deaths since January 2021

Chinese people are shown wearing protective face masks while visiting a shopping area. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
1 of 5 | Chinese people are shown wearing protective face masks while visiting a shopping area. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

March 19 (UPI) -- China reported its first COVID-19 deaths since January 2021 on Saturday amid an Omicron variant surge.

The National Health Commission said two COVID-19 deaths were reported in Jilin province, a northeastern province which has been worst hit by the latest COVID-19 outbreak.

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Both patients were elderly with underlying conditions and had mild symptoms of COVID-19, NHC's Bureau of Medical Administration Director Jiao Yahui told the South China Morning Post, adding that one of them was vaccinated and their direct cause of death was underlying conditions.

The deaths, which occurred Friday, are China's first from COVID-19 since Jan. 25, 2021, according to the South China Morning Post. The Jan. 25, 2021 fatality was also in Jilin.

Jilin also had close to 80% of 2,157 new symptomatic COVID-19 cases nationwide, and 537 of the 1,713 asymptomatic cases.

Since the beginning of this month, Jilin has reported more than 10,000 of the 29,000 cases of COVID-19 nationwide.

Jiao said that 95% of the cases had minor to no symptoms.

"Omicron causes a short duration of symptoms and transmits quickly with stealth," she told the South China Morning Post. "Most of the cases have mild or no symptoms because of the features of the virus and a high vaccination rate in our country.

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"Although patients with mild to no symptoms are no longer sent to designated hospitals, they should be isolated because they could transmit the virus to others," she added.

The number of new daily COVID-19 infections in Jalin topped 4,000 on Monday, prompting a lockdown of the province. China combatted more than 10,000 cases across 27 provinces and municipalities since the beginning of this month exacerbated by the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

China has punished some officials for failing to control the outbreak.

Wang Lu, the mayor and deputy party chief of Jilin city; Gao Yutang, the director of the Changchun health commission in Jilin province; and Zhang Lifeng, party secretary of a university in Jilin city, were among at least 26 officials to be sacked or punished for alleged poor responses, Global Times reported.

Since the pandemic began, China has officially recorded 4,638 deaths from COVID-19, but many experts believe officials may have underreported deaths, The New York Times reported.

U.S. health officials are particularly concerned about the rise in COVID-19 cases in Britain, NPR reported.

Weekly COVID-19 cases in Britain have more than doubled and hospitalizations are increasing, according to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 dashboard.

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"Over the last year or so, what happens in the U.K. usually happens here a few weeks later," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president's chief medical adviser told NPR. "And right now, the U.K. is seeing somewhat of a rebound in cases."

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