BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s imported coronavirus cases outnumbered domestic transmissions for a fifth straight day as infected travellers passed through major transport hubs in Beijing, Shanghai, and the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Mainland China had 13 new infections on Tuesday, the National Health Commission said, down from 21 a day earlier. A dozen of the new cases involved infected arrivals from abroad.
In contrast to the wave of imported cases, mainland China had just one domestic transmission on Tuesday in Wuhan, the capital of the central province of Hubei, where the flu-like disease emerged late last year.
The capital Beijing accounted for three of the imported new cases, down from nine the day before, while the commercial hub of Shanghai had three, matching the figure of the day before.
By noon on Wednesday, Beijing reported a further 11 imported cases, the majority involving travellers from Spain and Britain, with one from Brazil.
Imported cases in the southern province of Guangdong rose to five from three on Tuesday, involving arrivals from Britain, the Netherlands and Thailand. One infection emerged in southwestern Sichuan for the first time.
The tally of imported cases in mainland China was 155 by Tuesday, up 12 from a day earlier. That takes the total infections in mainland China to 80,894, the health authority said in a statement on Wednesday.
Though imported cases are on the rise, the risk of local transmission remains, with some patients showing few symptoms and travelling undetected for days.
A 30-year-old policeman from the central province of Henan flew back to Beijing this month following a week-long trip to Italy, and then took a train to the provincial capital of Zhengzhou.
He was not diagnosed until March 11, after several days at work. At least 11 cities in China have traced locals exposed to him during his journey.
By the end of Tuesday, mainland China’s death toll from the virus stood at 3,237, up 11 from the previous day.
Hubei recorded 11 new deaths, with Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, accounting for 10.
As domestic infections ebb, and cities widen quarantine rules for travellers from more countries, students are rushing to get home. [L4N2BA1HB]
They included Wang Zihang, a student in his final year of high school in France, who said he preferred quarantine in China to staying in Europe. “I was afraid there,” Wang added.
However, international students should not return to China if they do not have to, Pang Xinghuo, an official of the Beijing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news briefing in the capital.
A senior medical adviser to the government, Zhong Nanshan, cautioned that imported cases were highly infectious, and urged checks on arrivals from countries with large outbreaks, instead of observing symptoms.
He called for tougher global measures to tackle the virus, beyond checks on people with symptoms.
“Although some places in other countries have sealed off the city, there are still gatherings for meals or coffees in the city,” Zhong told a news conference. “This is not OK.”
While the rest of Hubei had no new infections for almost two weeks, Wuhan reported new infections through outpatient diagnosis for a fifth day, a worrying sign of continued local transmissions, despite nearly two months of tough social distancing and quarantine measures.
“The new infected patients and their family members have gone out and about in their local community during this period of staying at home,” the Wuhan coronavirus task force told some residents in a text message late on Tuesday, warning against the risk of community infection.
Wuhan health authorities said Tuesday’s new case, diagnosed at a fever clinic, involved a manager at a vegetable market.
Fever clinics in Wuhan received 630 patients in the 24 hours until 6 p.m. on Tuesday, up 32 from the previous period, the official Xinhua news agency said.
“What we are most worried about is that there is an undetected source of the coronavirus,” the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily cited a Wuhan-based doctor as saying.
Wuhan remains Hubei’s only city still designated as “high-risk” and subject to strict travel bans, as authorities are keen for other parts of the province to return to work.
Starbucks Corp. has reopened a store each in Hubei’s cities of Jingzhou and Shiyan, it said on Wednesday, after closing all outlets in the province for nearly two months during the lockdown.
Hubei has also tightened quarantine measures for overseas arrivals, moving them to a central facility for 14 days even in the absence of an apparent infection risk, state media said.
Reporting by Ryan Woo, Yawen Chen, Huizhong Wu, Se Young Lee, Sophie Yu, Roxanne Liu, Zhang Min, Dominique Patton and David Stanway; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez