Harbin: city of 10 million on lockdown to curb new coronavirus outbreak

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A major Chinese city has adopted draconian quarantine measures against the novel coronavirus after a new outbreak was detected there.

More than 70 people have been infected and over 4,000 are being tested in Harbin after the virus was believed to be ‘imported’ into the city by a student who had returned from New York, according to media reports.

Officials have banned gatherings and ordered communities to closely monitor non-local visitors and vehicles in the city of around 10 million.

Checkpoints have been installed at the airport and train stations, to screen those coming from elsewhere.

The news comes as China today announced that there were only two critically ill patients left in Wuhan, the former centre of the pandemic.

Harbin, the provincial capital of Heilongjiang in north-eastern China, has been grappling with what is now the country’s biggest coronavirus outbreak.

The government yesterday released a directive to instruct further restrictions on its residents, visitors and inbound traffic.

Before entering any public facilities and residential complexes, people must use a government-approved health app to prove they don’t have the virus, have their temperature taken and wear a face mask, the notice says.

Residents must follow social-distancing measures. Weddings, funerals, public performances and conferences are banned.

All confirmed, suspected, asymptomatic cases and their close contacts will be put into strict quarantine. All their neighbours in the same building must be isolated at home for two weeks with around-the-clock surveillance.

Asymptomatic cases are those who carry the virus but show no symptoms. They can still spread the virus to others.

Anyone in home-quarantine must pass two nucleic acid tests, which detect the coronavirus, and one anti-body test, which shows if the person has had the virus in the past.

Harbin, Heilongjiang’s biggest city, had already ordered isolation for those arriving from outside China or key epidemic areas.

The city’s government said this month it was ordering 28 days of quarantine for all arrivals from abroad, with two nucleic acid tests and an antibody test for each.

Heilongjiang has been at the forefront of China’s latest efforts to identify infected citizens arriving from Russia, with which it shares a border, to curb the spread of the virus.

‘I’m not taking my daughter or parents outside anymore. If we need any food or vegetables, we just let my husband buy it on his way back,’ said a 34-year-old Harbin resident surnamed Sun.

‘And whenever anyone has to go outside, he or she will leave their shoes outside the door to avoid bringing back any virus.’

Harbin, which has air links with Russia, reported three new confirmed cases today, taking its local infections to 55, excluding recoveries discharged from hospital.

Officials have so far registered 21 asymptomatic cases, including two who were diagnosed yesterday, according to the latest government figures.

So far, Heilongjiang has reported 540 local confirmed cases, including 470 discharged from hospital. Besides Harbin, the city of Mudanjiang has two current confirmed cases.

‘Prevention measures have been stricter recently, and people from Mudanjiang or Harbin will not be allowed to come into our town,’ said a civil servant surnamed Zhang, who lives in Mishan town on the eastern edge of Heilongjiang.

Hospitals in Harbin were arranging 4,106 people to be tested in response to the cluster infections, Beijing Daily reported.

The Second Hospital of Harbin halted its operation on Monday after all of the six cases the city registered on Sunday were said to be related to the hospital.

One persisting cluster in Harbin centred on an 87-year-old man surnamed Chen who had stayed at two hospitals since April 2, four days after dinner at home with his son’s friends, two of whom later tested positive.

By Tuesday, Chen had infected 78 people, with 55 confirmed, though 23 who tested positive have yet to show virus symptoms.

Those infected were mainly family members, hospital patients and their families, and doctors and nurses in direct or indirect contact, provincial health officials said.

Of seven new confirmed cases in Heilongjiang on Tuesday, four were patients who had stayed in the same ward as Chen, while three were healthcare workers at one hospital.

However, Harbin’s health officials have named a 22-year-old student, who studies in New York, as the likely source of the local crisis.

According to the Harbin Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Han is a Master’s student at New York University. Her parents and brother live in Harbin.

She arrived in her hometown on March 19 after flying out of New York the day before and having stopovers in Hong Kong and Beijing.

Han tested negative during isolation, but local health officials said her two recent tests in April showed she had coronavirus antibodies, which indicated a previous infection.

Officials suggested that Han spread the bug to one of her neighbours, whom she never met during her quarantine, by contaminating the environment of her building.

Her neighbour, Cao, then pass the virus on to various others, who in turn transmitted it to Chen.

The virus that infected the cluster has travelled beyond the province, with health officials in neighbouring Liaoning reporting on April 16 a confirmed case whose father had stayed at the same hospital as Chen.

On Monday, the northern region of Inner Mongolia reported a confirmed case in an individual who had stayed at one of the Harbin hospitals at the same time as Chen and the Liaoning patient.

China reported 10 new confirmed cases today, six of them imported, involving travellers from overseas, down from 23 yesterday.

China‘s tally of confirmed cases stands at 82,798, with 4,632 deaths.

Source: Daily Mail and Reuters

By BILLIE THOMSON

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