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April 7, 2020

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China wants stricter land border controls to stem imported cases

CHINA will work to prevent COVID-19 cases being imported through land borders, the government said after a meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang yesterday.

The meeting urged local authorities to hold the defense line of communities, ports and borders, saying China will support the border regions to step up their lab test and medical treatment capabilities while tightening port management, quarantine inspections and traffic controls in border areas.

China’s mainland reported 39 new coronavirus cases as of Sunday, of which 38 were people who had entered China from abroad, compared with 25 a day earlier.

Of those, 20 had arrived in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang from neighboring Russia. All were Chinese citizens who had flown from Moscow to Vladivostok and traveled to China by road.

The province also reported an increase of 28 imported asymptomatic COVID-19 cases on Sunday, who were all Chinese. Twenty-six came from Russia, one from Canada and one from the Philippines.

The National Health Commission said yesterday that 78 new asymptomatic cases had been identified by Sunday, compared with 47 the day before.

Imported cases and asymptomatic patients, who show no symptoms but can still pass the virus to others, have become China’s chief concern after draconian containment measures succeeded in slashing the overall infection rate.

According to the meeting, stricter epidemic control measures will be imposed in economic cooperation centers and trade markets along the border. Efforts will be made to ensure smooth international freight transport on the premise of safety.

NHC spokesman Mi Feng said yesterday that “the risk of imported cases from our neighboring countries keeps rising,” adding that China needed to keep alert and prevent a resurgence of the epidemic.

China has closed its borders to most foreigners as the virus spreads globally, though most imported cases have involved Chinese nationals returning from overseas.

It began testing all international arrivals for the coronavirus from April 1, a customs official Song Yueqian said.

Those who try to hide their travel history or health condition face a fine of up to 30,000 yuan (US$4,230) or even criminal proceedings, Song said, adding such people will be placed on a customs “blacklist” of travelers who will be subject to tighter checks in future.

Another possible source of infection are the 1.6 million Chinese citizens who study overseas, many of whom have struggled to return home since airlines and governments cut international flights.

Charter flights are being arranged to bring home Chinese students studying in the United States, starting with the youngest.

Writing in the New York Times yesterday, China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, noted there had been “unpleasant talk” between the two countries about the virus. “But this is not the time for finger-pointing. This is a time for solidarity, collaboration and mutual support,” Cui wrote.

One new locally transmitted infection was reported in the latest China data, in the southern province of Guangdong, down from five a day earlier in the same province.

Guangdong’s health commission raised the risk level for a total of four districts in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Jieyang from low to medium late on Sunday.

The worst hit Hubei Province accounted for almost half the new asymptomatic cases. A total of 705 people with asymptomatic cases were under medical observation around Chinese mainland.

The surge in asymptomatic cases, which China began reporting last week, poses a worry as Hubei’s capital Wuhan prepares to allow people to leave the city on April 8 for the first time since it was locked down in late January.

Hubei began easing travel curbs late last month, part of a wider effort to get the economy back on track.

Wuhan officials revoked the “epidemic-free” status of 45 residential compounds due to the emergence of asymptomatic cases.

“Epidemic-free” status allows people living in Wuhan compounds to leave their homes for two hours at a time. China has reported a total of 81,708 cases, with 3,331 deaths.


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