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First Covid death reported in China since hardline policy eased

China on Monday reported its first deaths from Covid-19 since easing its hardline containment policy, as hospitals and crematoriums struggle with an outbreak authorities say is impossible to track.

The country is pressing ahead with an unwinding of years of its zero-Covid policy, with people in one megacity now even told they can go to work if they are visibly ill.

Official case numbers are widely considered unreliable following the end of mandatory mass testing, while fears are mounting of a wave of infections in poor rural areas during the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays.

Authorities on Monday reported two deaths from the virus in the capital Beijing, where fear of Covid has emptied streets and stripped pharmacies of medications.

Millions of unvaccinated elderly Chinese remain vulnerable to the disease. Accounts from strained hospitals and crematoriums suggest the true toll of the outbreak has gone unreported.

Local governments across China have generally encouraged people to isolate at home while recovering a major shift from the previous policy of forcing people into state quarantine facilities.

While visits to hospitals and clinics surged in the days following China’s lifting of restrictions, though the World Health Organization said the virus was already spreading widely as “control measures were not stopping the disease”.

It is understood the third peak would hit from late February to mid-March as those infected over the holiday will return to their places of work.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas