China tightened quarantine measures for international arrivals on Monday as the country worries about a rise in imported cases of the deadly coronavirus and anger rages online at how Europe and the United States are handling the pandemic.
After declaring they had “basically” curbed the spread of the disease within China, where the virus first emerged, authorities have now ordered international arrivals into the nation’s capital from Monday onwards to go into centralised quarantine locations for 14 days.
About 20,000 people, one-tenth of them foreigners, have been entering China by plane each day on average since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, according to an immigration official.
Airline passengers are now being transferred to an exhibition centre near Beijing’s main international airport for medical screening before heading to quarantine facilities.
People in protective suits and police officers guarded the centre on Monday while ambulances waited outside on standby.
Travellers had previously been allowed to undergo the mandatory isolation at home but now only those with “special circumstances” will be allowed to do so.
People sent to the facilities must pay for their stay.
Authorities have given few details but at least three hotels told AFP they were designated to receive quarantined passengers. Staff wearing medical suits stood guard at hotel entrances.
People over 70 years old, minors, pregnant women, those who live alone, and people with underlying medical conditions can quarantine at home, Beijing city officials said.
Outside the transfer centre, diplomats from Germany and the Democratic Republic of the Congo told AFP they were exempt from the centralised quarantine because they were diplomatic staff.
Mayanga Kabibi, the DRC embassy employee, said she had been waiting for a driver for several hours after her flight from Paris landed at 6am.
“None of the drivers from my embassy want to pick me up because they’re scared,” she told AFP.
A Chinese national arriving from the US who wished to remain anonymous said he was being allowed to quarantine at home with his family because they had a newborn.
“How the hell can we be put into centralised quarantine with a 10-day-old baby?” he shouted, while frantically packing a car with luggage.
At least two other regions in China have also imposed a 14-day centralised quarantine on all foreign arrivals, state media reported Sunday.
Shanghai previously announced a mandatory isolation period at home or in centres for people coming from countries badly hit by the pandemic.
A total of 123 cases from abroad have now been reported in China after 12 more were discovered Monday.
– Online anger –
Imported cases have now outnumbered domestic infections for three straight days.
Chinese social media users on Monday criticised Europe and the United States over how they have handled the pandemic, which has spread rapidly on their shores in recent weeks.
One coronavirus-themed hashtag was viewed 55 million times on China’s Twitter-like Weibo site, with many users saying they wished US President Donald Trump was infected and others calling for “strict” controls to prevent imported cases.
“Can’t let our previous efforts go to waste!” one user said.
Another popular hashtag with 820 million views condemned a strategy of “herd immunity” proposed by experts in Britain and France that would allow the virus to spread slowly, with some saying it meant “surrender”.
The country has touted the effectiveness of quarantining the central city of Wuhan — where the virus first emerged — and surrounding Hubei province since late January along with restrictions on large gatherings and travel.
But in a sign of the slow return to normality, four cities in Hubei have chartered vehicles to now allow more than 1,600 migrant workers to return to their factories outside the province.
China’s death toll from the virus now stands at 3,213 after 14 more fatalities were reported on Monday, while fewer than 10,000 people are currently still infected, down from tens of thousands in recent weeks.
The progress contrasts with the growing crisis abroad, with the worldwide death toll surpassing 6,500.