China records first COVID-related deaths since January 2021

China has recorded its first two COVID-19 related deaths since January of last year — but health authorities say the elderly victims died from underlying conditions and not the disease itself.

The deaths in the northeastern Jilin province come as China suffers a surge in cases having for a long time avoided the levels of infection recorded in other parts of the world.

“Both victims had serious underlying diseases,” Jiao Yahui, Director of the Chinese National Health Commission Bureau of Medical Administration, said. “And one of them had not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Their coronavirus condition was mild. The direct cause of death is underlying diseases.”

More than 29,000 cases have been recorded across China this month.

“The current round of the epidemic has affected multiple locations and is widespread,” she added. “The main strain is Omicron, and the number of cases in some provinces is increasing rapidly.”

China has so far adopted a zero COVID policy to contain the spread of the disease, but is now seeking to move away from stringent lockdowns.