BEIJING | China reported its first death from COVID-19 in eight months on Thursday (local time), as a team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived in the country to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.
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The country, where COVID-19 first emerged a year ago, has largely eradicated the epidemic since the spring thanks to strict movement controls, widespread mask wear, containment measures and tracing applications for mobile phone.
But China has recorded rising balance sheets in recent days – even if they remain very far from the statements announced abroad.
On Thursday, the country reported the worst daily toll in terms of contamination since March.
The majority of new cases reported have been in Hebei, the huge province surrounding the capital Beijing (81 contaminations). And it is precisely in this province that a death from the new coronavirus was announced Thursday by the health authorities.
They gave no further details.
The last death in China linked to COVID-19 officially dates back to last May. According to the official toll, 4,635 people in the country have now succumbed to the disease.
The news quickly generated a reaction on social media and the topic surpassed 100 million views on Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter in China.
“It’s shocking, it’s been so long since I saw the words“ death of the virus ”” in China, an Internet user warned, saying he hoped quickly for the end of the epidemic.
This new death recorded in China comes after the appearance in recent days of several outbreaks of contamination, prompting a firm response from the authorities.
Heilongjiang, a province bordering Russia, declared on Wednesday an epidemic “state of emergency”. Its approximately 37.5 million inhabitants have been instructed to stay in the province except in an emergency and to cancel any planned gathering.
One of the cities in the province, Suihua, which has more than 5 million inhabitants in its vast territory, was placed in quarantine on Monday. Residents must stay at home and public transport has been suspended.
The upsurge in COVID-19 cases worries the government as the Chinese New Year approaches, which falls this year on February 12, and results in hundreds of millions of displacements of migrant workers returning to their families.
However, it is unlikely that China will experience a “large-scale spread” of the coronavirus, however assured Wednesday Feng Zijian, deputy director of the Chinese National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Explore all tracks
It is in this context that a WHO team arrived in China on Thursday, in Wuhan, where the virus was first reported at the end of 2019.
This WHO team is made up of 10 scientists of different nationalities and will be responsible for tracing the origins of COVID-19. Experts will be subject to a two-week quarantine upon arrival.
The visit is highly sensitive for the Chinese regime, anxious to avoid any responsibility for the epidemic, which has killed nearly two million people worldwide. Originally scheduled last week, it was canceled at the last minute for lack of all the necessary permissions for the team.
And during a rare criticism of China, the head of the WHO regretted that his investigators could not go to the country.
This WHO mission is expected to last between five and six weeks. It will explore “all avenues”, but will not seek to identify a culprit, told AFP one of the members, Fabian Leendertz, of the Robert Koch Institute in Germany.
“It’s about understanding what happened to reduce the risk in the future,” Leendertz insisted.
But “one should not expect that […] the team comes back with conclusive results ”from this first visit, he warned.