China reports first Covid-19 death since May when WHO mission arrives

On Thursday, China reported its first Covid-19 death in eight months as it struggles to contain a resurgence of cases and is preparing for the arrival of a WHO expert group.

More than 20 million people are locked up in the north of the country and one province has declared an emergency, as the daily number of Covid-19s climbs after months of reporting only a handful of daily falls.

China had largely controlled the virus outbreak through a series of strict blockades and mass tests. But another 138 infections were reported by the National Health Commission on Thursday – the highest single day since March last year.

No information was provided by health officials about the latest death, except that it occurred in Hebei Province, where the government has placed several cities in custody.

Authorities launched a mass test last week, closing transport links, schools and shops in the Hebei capital Shijiazhuang – the epicenter of the latest outbreak.

Nearby Xingtai, home to seven million people, has also been locked since last Friday, as have the five million people in Langfang City.

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In the wake of the spread of infections, northeastern Heilongjiang declared a “state of emergency” on Wednesday, telling its 37.5 million residents not to leave the province unless absolutely necessary, saying public gatherings would be suspended.

No deaths have been reported on mainland China since May last year and the official death toll now stands at 4,635.

WHO arrival

The death comes when China is ready for the arrival of an expert group of researchers from the World Health Organization, which will launch a politically sensitive investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ten-strong team is expected to arrive on Thursday in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus was first discovered at the end of 2019.

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Peter Ben Embarek, group leader for the mission, said the group would begin a two-week quarantine at a hotel due to China’s border requirements.

“And then after the two weeks, we could move and meet our Chinese counterparts in person and go to the different places we want to visit,” he said.

“The idea is to develop a number of studies that have already been designed and decided on a few months ago to give us a better understanding of what happened,” he said.

The long delayed journey comes more than a year after the pandemic began and amid political tensions over allegations that Beijing was trying to thwart the project.