April 10, 2020 / 8:36 AM / 4 months ago

On Russian border, China scrambles to contain coronavirus influx

BEIJING (Reuters) - A small Chinese city on the border with Russia is mounting an increasingly urgent defence against a surge of new coronavirus cases even as crowds return to restaurants and shops in much of the rest of the country.

FILE PHOTO: Medical officials with protective gear walk inside a plane while taking the body temperature of passengers as a preventive measure against the coronavirus (COVID-19) at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov

Suifenhe in China’s far northeastern Heilongjiang province has seen an influx of Chinese people returning home, many infected with the virus, travelling by road from the Russian far eastern city of Vladivostok after flying there from Moscow.

Russia halted all flights into China from Feb. 14 and it closed its land border to incoming traffic from China in January. That means the route through remote Suifenhe is one of only a few options for many Chinese people trying to get home.

On Thursday, Suifenhe reported that it had a total of 123 imported coronavirus cases, nearly 97% of cases in Heilongjiang.

The city’s 70,000 residents have been told to stay at home and only person per household can shop for essentials every three days. Public buses and taxis are not allowed to leave the city centre.

Those are the same restrictions imposed in late January on the hard-hit central city of Wuhan and the surrounding province of Hubei, where the virus emerged.

“We’re so scared. Measures here are so much stricter now compared to the earlier period,” said Liang Yuxin, a 21-year-old student in Suifenhe told Reuters via social media messaging.

On Friday, a makeshift field hospital - China’s first outside Wuhan - will be ready to house 600 patients with mild or no symptoms, state news agency Xinhua said.

Work to set up the hospital in a converted office building began on Monday, and 400 medical staff are expected to be stationed there.

“We will admit and treat every single person who requires admission and treatment,” Yu Kaihong, the leader of a provincial medical team sent to assist Suifenhe, told a news conference on Thursday.

“We will use the whole strength of the province to prevent the import of the virus.”

Chinese authorities closed the border on Tuesday although cargo was allowed in as long as drivers had their health checked.

The border remained closed on Friday and it was not clear when it would re-open or how many Chinese people might be on the Russian side hoping to get home.

Another student, Deng Wenle, said people needing medical care often went to nearby Mudanjiang, a much larger city two hours away by car.

“I can’t imagine how Suifenhe can handle the huge influx of patients. All the hotels are full of people under quarantine and even the sports stadium was turned into a quarantine venue,” she told Reuters via social media.

Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Lusha Zhang; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel

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