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Control tightened over imported cases

Cui Jia
Updated: Mar 17,2020 07:27 AM    China Daily

China is gearing up for confronting the rising risk of imported infections of novel coronavirus pneumonia by tightening inspection and quarantine measures on international flights and at ports, reopening an infectious disease hospital built in suburban Beijing in 2003 and warning travelers not to conceal or falsify their health conditions.

"The novel coronavirus outbreak has been gradually contained in China while it has begun to spread rapidly globally. So it is crucial to prevent people from carrying the virus into China from abroad via different ports," Wang Jun, head of the General Administration of Customs' Department of Policy and Legal Affairs, said on March 16.

Sixteen confirmed infections were reported on the Chinese mainland on March 15. Apart from four cases in Hubei, the hardest-hit province in China, the other 12 were all imported, the National Health Commission said. As of March 15, 123 international travelers have been diagnosed with the virus, the commission said.

Since the World Health Organization categorized the outbreak as a pandemic on March 11, an average of more than 120,000 people have entered China daily via all ports of entry, a drop of more than 80 percent from the same period last year. Of that total, an average of 20,000 people daily arrived at airports, of which 10 percent were foreigners, the National Immigration Administration said on March 16.

With many Chinese returning to China amid the global pandemic, the nation's civil aviation authority sent seven flights to bring back a total of 1,101 overseas Chinese in countries hit hard by the novel coronavirus, Zhu Tao, an official at the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said on March 16.

At 1:50 pm on March 16, a flight carrying 125 passengers from Milan, Italy, landed at Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. The flight had been added to bring Chinese students and overseas Chinese home after the outbreak in Italy worsened, China Central Television reported.

"In light of the actual demand, we'll arrange additional flights in a timely manner under the guidance of the State Council's joint prevention and control mechanism," Zhu said.

The inbound passenger flow has increased the risk of imported infections, and authorities are tightening quarantine and inspections measures.

The Beijing and Shanghai governments have required all international inbound passengers to be quarantined for two weeks even if they don't have any symptoms. They also have to pay for the cost of the isolation. It's unclear if the measure will be used by other Chinese cities.

People will not be returned to the countries they departed from if they are confirmed to have an infection, but will receive treatment in China, Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission, said on March 16.

Zhu, the CAAC official, said airlines are urged to make adjustments based on the local health risks in the country of departure, passenger makeup and seat occupancy. Carriers must take each passenger's temperature and set up an emergency quarantine zone for flights with relatively low risk to isolate those who may start to exhibit symptoms while aboard. Wearing face masks is also a must, he said.

For high-risk flights, airlines should minimize cabin service and ramp up protection efforts for all crew members. They should immediately take isolation, ventilation and sterilization measures when suspected cases are found aboard and inform the destination airport.

Liu Haitao, head of the National Immigration Administration's border inspection department, said the administration has been sharing information about people entering China with customs inspection and quarantine departments before arrivals, so officers can be prepared in advance.

All international flights arriving at Beijing Capital International Airport have been directed to a designated terminal equipped with inspection and quarantine facilities. After completing health quarantine and information registration, passengers are transferred to government-designated isolation facilities, according to the municipal government.

On March 16, Beijing also reopened the Xiaotangshan Hospital in Changping district, which was built in 2003 to treat severe acute respiratory syndrome patients.

The hospital has more than 1,000 beds, and will be mainly used for medical checks on high-risk inbound passengers after border inspections. Those confirmed with, or suspected of, an infection will be hospitalized, and those found in normal condition after medical checks will be taken back to their home provincial regions in a safe way and be quarantined for 14 days, according to the municipal government.
Violators may be jailed

On March 16, five central authorities issued a guideline, warning that travelers who deliberately hide their symptoms or fail to truthfully report their health condition when they come to China could face prison sentences.

According to the guideline jointly released by the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Justice and General Administration of Customs, people refusing the health checks or falsifying health statement cards while entering China will be identified as committing the crime of disturbing border health inspections and quarantine. They could be imprisoned for up to three years.

Although some people clearly knew they had COVID-19 symptoms or had been to high-risk countries, they concealed that crucial information to avoid quarantines. Some even took fever-reducing drugs to cover up symptoms and pass inspections, said Wang of the customs administration.

"Such acts create huge risks for public health security," Wang said, urging people to be honest during inspections.

On March 16, a woman who had flown to Beijing from the United States on March 13 and was later confirmed to have the virus, was investigated by the police for concealing information about her health.