(HONG KONG) — China has reported its first three deaths linked to the COVID-19 outbreak in Shanghai, as the country battles its worst surge of infections since the pandemic began.
According to a statement on Monday from the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission, the people who died on Sunday were aged between 89 and 91. All of them were unvaccinated.
As Shanghai’s 25 million residents enter a third week of lockdown, the city on Monday recorded 22,248 new cases, 2,417 of which were symptomatic.
The official death toll, which is remarkably lower than those in other major cities, has fueled skepticism of the official data coming out of China.
Some experts suspect that China is attributing underlying health conditions to COVID deaths. Yanzhong Huang, a Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations pointed to a Shanghai study that estimates there were more than 2,000 excess diabetes deaths in Shanghai associated with the lockdown.
Anger over the country’s hardline “Zero COVID” approach to the pandemic has been swelling in the country, particularly in Shanghai where residents have experienced food shortages and delivery difficulties.
The economic costs are also growing as the lockdown impacts the flow of goods to major shipping ports, posing disruptions to global supply chains.
On Monday, China’s State Council Vice-Premier Liu He, an economic advisor to Chinese President Xi Jinping, said that China must stabilize its supply chains with the help of local governments.
Meanwhile, Shanghai’s Economic and Information Technology Commission announced plans to resume production and ease controls on manufacturers.
Data released on Monday showed a significant slowdown in the country’s economic activity in March. Shanghai contributes to about a third of China’s gross domestic product.
“We should solve outstanding problems one by one in key regions,” Liu said, according to Xinhua News Agency. Liu said the government will establish a so-called “white list” of companies that require assistance in recovering from disruptions.
Speaking with ABC News, Huang also voiced concern that prolonged lockdowns could hurt China’s competitiveness in the lockdown.
“When other countries are now learning to coexist with the virus and their economy and the manufacturing capacity is recovering, China’s export sector will be affected,” Huang said.
Huang added that it’s time for China to move away from its 2020 tactics: “Over the past two years, the Zero COVID strategy was effective in sustaining extremely low levels of infection in helping China fight this, to boost its reputation as a success by pandemic response. But now this approach are showing diminishing returns. The social economic costs associated with the approach are rising rapidly and exponentially.”
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