China reports first coronavirus deaths in over a year

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Credit…Billy HC Kwok for The New York Times

Hong Kong has said more than a million people in the city of 7.5 million have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, a worrying milestone for a city battered by an extraordinarily deadly Omicron wave. .

Hong Kong health officials said at a press conference on Friday that they had recorded 20,082 new daily cases and 206 new deaths, bringing the cumulative total to more than 1,010,000 cases and more than 5,000 deaths. .

New cases reported per day

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated from data reported over the last seven days.

While other places in Asia like China, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam are seeing similar waves of cases brought on by Omicron, Hong Kong’s death rate is high, far exceeding that of mainland China. , which has reported a total of about 4,600 deaths in a population of more than 1.4 billion. Nearly 95% of the city’s deaths have occurred in the past 30 days, according to government data.

Hong Kong was once considered a world leader in controlling the coronavirus crisis. But despite limits on public gatherings, restrictions on late-night dining and mask mandates, a surge of Omicron cases that began late last year has overwhelmed its healthcare system, causing people to pile up. bodies of the dead in hospitals.

In the past two weeks, Hong Kong has recorded about 65% of the cases it has ever had, government data shows. Experts said that figure is most likely an undercount. Using models, researchers at the University of Hong Kong this week estimated that at least 3.6 million people had been infected. Up to 4.5 million people could contract the virus before the current outbreak ends, they added.

The outbreak involves the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, which is more transmissible than the first version of Omicron, BA.1, but not necessarily more virulent. British and Danish researchers have found that BA.2 is no longer likely to cause hospitalizations, but studies elsewhere are ongoing.

Other factors in Hong Kong’s outbreak are also at play: the city is densely populated and has low vaccination rates among people aged 70 and over and residents of nursing homes. Its success in keeping the virus at bay until recently has also left many residents without any boosted immunity.

The Hong Kong government is caught between surging cases and deaths, pressure from Beijing for mass testing and lockdowns, and pandemic fatigue among residents. On Thursday, Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, told a press conference that she would accelerate the review of her current measures scheduled for April 20 as early as next week and reconsider her flight bans, mandatory tests and its mandatory quarantines for travellers. . “I have a very strong feeling that people’s tolerance is fading,” she said.

The Hong Kong case data included rapid antigen test results, officials said, which the government has been accepting instead of PCR test results since last month to expand testing capacity. Residents who test positive with rapid antigen tests did not have to seek confirmation with PCR tests. But the government also asked them to declare their infections themselves, under penalty of legal proceedings. Those who receive a positive result from a rapid antigen test may be randomly asked to be administered a PCR test, officials said.

At a press conference on Friday, Ms Lam stressed the urgency of reporting home testing to health authorities. “If there are people blatantly refusing to comply, then isn’t it incumbent on law enforcement to do something about it?” she says.

Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, which provided the raw numbers for Our world in data and the New York Times coronavirus world map, has reported fewer cases than the Hong Kong government.

New cases reported per day

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated from data reported over the last seven days.

The difference is because the center did not include the city’s rapid antigen test results in its total, but in an email on Friday it said it intended to incorporate them into the ‘to come up.

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