Now that the contagion crisis in Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province has eased substantially, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have become the new battlefields in the campaign against the still-spreading novel coronavirus, not from within but from hordes of returning overseas Chinese.
China’s all-out war to eradicate the pneumonic epidemic has shifted away from Wuhan, the breeding ground of the pathogen, to the country’s three largest urban centers because the spike in the number of returning Chinese who have become infected while overseas is threatening to vitiate China’s efforts and sacrifice. This is happening after almost two months of excruciatingly far-reaching measures, such as city and community lockdowns and travel bans, were starting to pay off.
On Monday, Wuhan reported just four new infections, compared with at least 10 passengers exhibiting symptoms who were intercepted and then tested positive for Covid-19 in Beijing, bringing the city’s tally of imported cases to 31, according to figures released by the local government. Guangdong has also rushed to isolate four infected passengers.
To stop the plague from creeping back into China, Beijing has closed its brand-new Daxing Airport to all passengers arriving from overseas, and instead, will funnel them into Zone D inside Terminal 3 at its Capital International Airport for centralized temperature and health screening. Paramedics in full protective suits will check the condition of each disembarking passenger in special aerobridges along a fully-enclosed route.
Those found with febrile symptoms will be isolated for treatment onsite. Others categorized as “low-risk persons” will be led to a 24-hour passenger transit center being set up inside a main hall at the China International Exhibition Center near the airport, where officers dispatched by Beijing’s districts as well as ones from neighboring municipalities and provinces such as Tianjin, Hebei, Henan, Liaoning, and Shandong will conduct further checks on them, before they are escorted to coaches fitted with antiviral gear and taken to designated facilities for 14 days of compulsory quarantine.
No less than three temperature checks will be conducted throughout the process, and medical professionals and ambulances detailed to the transit center will tend to those with abnormal temperatures, tackle any emergencies and disinfect the place frequently. To minimize the risk of cross-infection, special arrangements are being made at the airport and the center to prevent big crowds from forming.
Beijing papers say that those flying in from Iran, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States are being notified that they face additional checks and could be taken from their planes to their homes or hotels in Beijing for quarantine, in a bid to guarantee that they have no contact with anyone other than immigration officers, medical professionals and security staff.
Shanghai and Guangzhou, another two national aviation gateways serving eastern and southern China, are also imposing similar measures to keep the highly infectious virus at bay.
Guangzhou, in particular, is beefing up containment and contingency measures at its airport and throughout the city, after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang noted in a conference last week that the spring session of the Canton Fair, China’s largest international trade event, would be held as usual in the city starting from mid-April. Normally, about 200,000 foreign buyers flock to Guangzhou to attend the month-long event, on top of about 100,000 domestic exhibitors and dealers from across the nation.
Meanwhile, the Global Times, a sister publication of the People’s Daily that is known for its nationalist stance, has joined the call for an outright ban on flights originating from Europe, North America, the Middle East and elsewhere. However, the central authorities believe that by allowing Chinese nationals to return, the number of people that may need to be airlifted out of pandemic-ravaged countries could be substantially reduced. Beijing has reportedly issued new visas to foreigners from Europe and the US.
Chinese officials also said on Sunday that those passengers defying existing travel restrictions and are not covered by China’s medical and social security networks will have to foot the bill for compulsory quarantine, and treatment if they are infected.
The announcement follows a row over a hefty medical bill handed to a family of Chinese expats, who were US green card holders but decided to flee the US and return to China. They were asked to settle their bill before they could be discharged from a hospital in Beijing.
The family took to social media to vent their frustration but found themselves on the receiving end of online abuse, with patriotic netizens telling them they should use their green cards and ask US President Donald Trump to pay the bill.
Chinese nationals who are taken ill by the coronavirus can have their treatment fees waived if they abide by isolation policies.