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People register for COVID-19 tests at a testing facility in Beijing on April 23, 2022. Image Credit: AP

BEIJING: Beijing is on alert after 10 middle school students tested positive for COVID-19, in what city officials said was an initial round of testing.

City officials suspended classes in the school for a week following the positive test results on Friday. The Chinese capital also reported four other confirmed cases that day that were counted separately.

Mainland China reported 24,326 new community-transmitted infections on Saturday.

China has doubled down on the approach even in face of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. The zero-COVID policy warded off many deaths and widespread outbreaks when faced with less transmissible variants through mass testing and strict lockdowns where people could not leave their homes.

Meanwhile, Shanghai reported 12 new COVID-19 related deaths on April 22, up from 11 the previous day.

The city, battling China’s biggest coronavirus outbreak so far, recorded 20,634 new local asymptomatic infections on Friday, rebounding from 15,698 a day earlier. Total new symptomatic cases reached 2,736, up from 1,931 on April 21, official data showed.

The patients who died had an average age of 88, the Shanghai government said. All had underlying health conditions, and none had been vaccinated.

“One strategy that needs immediate implementation is to increase rates of the booster vaccination dose to the elderly and other vulnerable groups and to see if mRNA vaccines can be used,” said Jaya Dantas, a public health expert at the Curtin School of Population Health in Australia, who is monitoring the Shanghai outbreak.

China has yet to introduce its own mRNA vaccines, and has chosen not to import those developed overseas.

In a study published by China’s Disease Prevention and Control Center on Friday, medical experts in the northeastern city of Jilin, the location of another recent outbreak, said China’s vaccines have been effective so far, though new emerging COVID-19 variants remained unpredictable.

They said “the data is strong enough to indicate the public significance of the strategy of full and booster vaccination, particularly for the elder population.”

Liang Wannian, head of a COVID-19 expert advisory body with the National Health Commission, told state television late on Friday that China’s current “dynamic” zero-COVID policies had given the country “time to prepare”, allowing it to strengthen vaccination levels.