BEIJING: China is facing a new coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) flare-up along Suifenhe province, its remote border with Russia located 1,300 kilometers northeast of its capital, as the Health Ministry revealed 243 individuals from the region had been found positive for Covid-19.
The frontier has been sealed and emergency medical units rushed to the area to prevent travelers from bringing the virus back from overseas. The virus originated in China, which is now striving to keep it out while the United States and other countries struggle to bring their own epidemics under control.
The long, porous border of sprawling Heilongjiang province and neighboring Inner Mongolia has much less travel than major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
But it is a popular alternative route into the country. Many Chinese live and work in Russia, where China has major investments encouraged by warm ties between Beijing and Moscow.
By Monday night, a field hospital was operating in the city of Suifenhe along the Russian border, equipped with a negative pressure lab to diagnose new cases.
Staffed by 22 experts from the National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention under the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it would conduct nucleic acid tests and other forms of research to aid in virus control and prevention, allowing the city to test up to 1,000 cases per day, according to the China CDC.
Suifenhe, a city of 70,000 people that is frozen-in for much of the year, also has over 1,000 persons suspected to be carrying the disease based on initial tests.
More than 100 people in the area have tested positive for the virus but showed no symptoms. Recent arrivals from Russia account for nearly half of China’s imported cases.
“We are facing a truly grave situation in the northeast as represented by Suifenhe,” National Health Commission expert Wang Bin said on Monday at a news conference. “Up to now our medical resources in the area have just not been sufficient.”
Hao Jun, a researcher from the Heilongjiang authority, said the new infected persons in the province total to 366, mostly obtained from the Lyublino and Sadavod Market in Moscow, where the patients worked.
Hao added that as returnees from Russia shared an enclosed space for a long time during their journeys and had close contact, the risk of infection rose. He suggested that overseas Chinese in Russia enhance self-protection and not enter China through Suifenhe to avoid the risk of being infected during the journey.
Suifenhe has now 1,479 people under collective quarantine. Local officials on Monday said 15 percent to 20 percent of the people may test positive.
Two medical teams from Harbin Medical University with 205 members, who just finished their mission in Wuhan to fight against the coronavirus, voluntarily requested deployment to support Suifenhe on Tuesday.
Heilongjiang, which is currently the hardest-hit province in the Chinese mainland with 336 existing infections, is recording the third-highest death toll in China after Hubei and Henan provinces.
Coronavirus cases also continued to spike in Japan, with 457 new infections recorded on Wednesday and 10 deaths on Tuesday, according to the country’s health ministry.
The total number of infections across the country now stands at 8,812, including 712 cases associated with the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama Bay in February. The death toll is 131, with 12 fatalities linked to the ship.