China said on Monday that just three people have died from Covid-19 in Shanghai since a gruelling lockdown began last month, despite recording hundreds of thousands of cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant in the eastern megacity.

Authorities said the first deaths from China’s biggest outbreak since the virus wave in Wuhan over two years ago were three people aged 89 to 91, all of whom had underlying health issues and had not received Covid vaccines.

Beijing insists that its zero-Covid policy of hard lockdowns, mass testing and len­gthy quarantines has ave­rted fatalities and the public hea­lth crises that have engu­lfed much of the rest of the world.

But some have cast doubt on official figures in a nation with low vaccination rates among its vast elderly population. Shanghai health officials noted that less than two-thirds of residents over 60 had received two Covid jabs and less than 40 per cent had received a booster.

Unverified social media posts have also claimed unreported deaths — typically before being scrubbed from the internet. Hong Kong, meanwhile, has attributed nearly 9,000 deaths to Covid-19 since Omicron first surged there in January.

The three reported victims in Shanghai “deteriorated into severe cases after going into hospital”, according to a government account, with city health official Wu Qia­nyu telling a Monday press conference that “underlying disease” was the direct cause of death.

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