China over the weekend reported the deaths of three people in Beijing as its first deaths from Covid-19 in six months, with cases rising despite a strict zero-Covid policy.
China is the last major economy still bound by a no-tolerance policy towards the virus and has enforced immediate lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines while the rest of the world adjusts to life with Covid.
The first death officials announced Sunday involved an 87-year-old man. Beijing reported 962 new infections on Monday, up from 621 the day before.
The National Health Commission said on Sunday it had registered 26,824 local infections across the country in the past 24 hours, approaching peaks in April.
Students in schools in several Beijing districts buckled up for online classes Monday after officials urged residents in some of the hardest-hit areas to stay home.
While China’s Covid numbers are low compared to most other countries, the latest announcements follow a recent spike in cases after months of few reported infections.
The announcements also come after Beijing announced its most significant relaxation of coronavirus measures to date on November 11, including shortened mandatory quarantine periods for international arrivals.
Days later, several Chinese cities canceled mass testing for Covid, raising hopes of an eventual reopening.
However, the easing of some measures has not reversed the zero-Covid policy that has isolated China internationally, wreaked havoc on the economy and sparked protests in a country where dissent is routinely crushed.
In another sign that China’s reopening could still be held up, Beijing officials reiterated their call for residents to avoid “non-mandatory” inter-district travel to avoid spreading the virus.
Some of Beijing’s largest shopping malls were closed on Sunday, while others reduced opening hours or banned table service in restaurants.
Several offices in Chaoyang District’s business and diplomatic hub urged companies to tell employees to work from home. Some parks and gyms have also closed.
Stock markets across Asia fell on Monday in response to Beijing’s new Covid restrictions. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell nearly 2%, which investors saw as a setback to hopes of an early easing of strict pandemic rules.
The number of cases “is increasing significantly,” said Beijing municipal government spokesman Xu Hejian on Sunday. “The situation of disease prevention and control in the capital is grim.”
More than 8,000 new cases were reported daily in Guangzhou’s southern manufacturing hub on Sunday, prompting officials to conduct general Covid screening in central Haizhu District, home to about 1.8 million people, and Baiyun District for five days to lock .
Guangzhou was the scene of angry protests and clashes with police last week over a renewed lockdown.
Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report