China has reported zero new Covid-19 deaths for the first time since January, despite struggles with ongoing outbreaks including in Wuhan where dozens of residential blocks have been locked down just one day before travel restrictions were set to be lifted.
On Tuesday, the National Health Commission reported 32 new cases across China, all of which were arrivals from another country. There were also 30 new asymptomatic cases reported.
However, for the first time since the commission began publishing its figures in January, there were no new deaths reported.
The sliver of promising news came as mainland China and Hong Kong strengthened restrictions on foreign arrivals amid growing number of imported and asymptomatic cases.
More than 1.3 million people around the world have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and there have been more than 74,744 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.
Last month, authorities began easing restrictions on the residents of Wuhan, which has endured months of an extraordinary lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.
As rates of infection dropped, authorities designated more than 7,000 residential compounds in Wuhan “epidemic-free”, allowing residents to leave their homes for two hours at a time. Travel restrictions were scheduled to lift on Wednesday, allowing people with green health codes to leave the city.
But on Monday, state news agency Xinhua said those designations had been revoked for 45 compounds due to the emergence of asymptomatic cases, among other unspecified reasons.
Chinese authorities have only recently changed their focus to asymptomatic cases, which until this month were not included in the tally of confirmed infections, despite being an estimated 18-31% of cases, according to Shanghai-based infectious disease doctor Zhang Wenhong.
Asymptomatic cases have only been included in the criteria for a residence being “epidemic-free” since 4 April.
China has reported a total of 81,740 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 3,331 who have died, although there is some international scepticism of the government’s transparency with figures.
Cases in mainland China have been dropping since March, but it is among several Asian nations facing a second wave of infections brought in from overseas. On Monday the government said it would increase measures at land borders, where the number of cases detected were exceeding those recorded at airports. It also announced it would indefinitely extend its ban on foreigners entering or transiting.
Hong Kong, which was considered to have early success in preventing an epidemic, has seen cases more than double in recent weeks, prompting new strict measures on residents too.
Chief executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday said there had been double-digit growth in cases every day, mostly among Hong Kong residents returning from overseas.
Lam said she wanted the public to exercise self discipline but that the government would not hesitate to use legislation to enforce stricter measures.
Other developments included:
In Britain, prime minister Boris Johnson was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) at St Thomas’ hospital after falling ill with Covid-19. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who is Johnson’s “designated survivor”, is running the country’s pandemic response while the prime minister is in hospital.
US president Donald Trump was among world leaders to send the best wishes to Johnson, saying intensive care was “really big stuff”, but he also said he had asked two unnamed “leading [pharmaceutical] companies” to contact London and offer “therapeutics” to help Johnson.
In Japan, prime minister Shinzo Abe said he expected to declare a state of emergency soon, after several regions, including Tokyo, saw sharp rises in the number of cases.
In the US, the governors of New York and New Jersey pointed to tentative signs that the outbreak was starting to plateau, but warned against complacency. More than 10,000 people have died in the US after contracting Covid-19, and more than 350,000 people have been formally diagnosed.
In Europe, Spain had its fourth consecutive day of reporting a drop in Covid-19-related deaths. In the past 24 hours 637 people died, which was the lowest number in nearly a fortnight. More than 13,055 people have died in Spain, second only to Italy which has recorded 16,500 fatalities.
In New Zealand, the health minister David Clark was demoted after he admitted he drove his family 20km to a beach, against the country’s strict lockdown rules.
Additional reporting by Pei Lin Wu