China on Friday reported a record rise in imported COVID-19 cases as expatriates returned home from the US and Europe, sparking fears of a second wave of infections just as the country recovers from the initial outbreak.
All 41 of the new confirmed cases in China were imported from abroad, the Chinese National Health Commission said yesterday, bringing the total number of such cases to 269.
Beijing and Shanghai were the main entry points for the returnees, many of whom are students who were studying abroad, official reports said.
They have come back after many campuses in the US and Europe shut down to stem rapidly rising infection rates there.
Also returning in a flight to safety were China-based expatriates, as businesses begin to reopen.
The pivot to stemming imported cases has led to a tightening of quarantine restrictions in the country.
Guangdong Province’s health commission said that travelers who enter the province from abroad would be subject to a 14-day quarantine on arrival either in personal residences or at a centralized quarantine center at the expense of the traveler.
The number of confirmed cases in China totaled 81,008 as of Friday, the National Health Commission said, adding that the death toll was 3,255, up by seven, a much slower rate than at the height of the crisis.
The lack of locally transmitted cases for the third consecutive day underscored a recovery that has prompted officials to relax restrictions, even in the virus epicenter of Wuhan, which was responsible for all seven new deaths.
City officials last week said that residents could walk around their compounds, loosening restrictions that had kept them in their personal living areas.
The official Xinhua news agency yesterday said that commercial outlets in residential communities and villages without existing cases of the coronavirus can resume business, citing the municipal bureau of commerce.
In addition to Beijing and Shanghai, the major transport hub of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, has facilitated infected returnees.
The southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, and the eastern provinces of Shandong and Zhejiang, as well as Shaanxi and Sichuan, have also all reported cases.
In Hong Kong, many overseas arrivals are going unmonitored as they begin two weeks of mandatory self-quarantine, with only one-third of the 6,000 electronic wristbands issued to them being activated, authorities said on Friday.
Hong Kong has witnessed a surge in people returning home this week, as they flee an explosion of disease caused by the coronavirus in Europe, North America and the Middle East, but delays in verifying their accounts have held up the activations.
With 256 infections and four deaths, the Chinese-ruled territory has toughened curbs on travelers, ordering 14 days of quarantine for arrivals from midnight on Thursday and advising against all nonessential travel.
It has seen some success in reining the spread of the virus, but more than 90 percent of infections in a recent spike in cases caught the virus overseas or had close contacts with travelers.
Hong Kong has said that it has more than 20,000 bracelets ready for arrivals and would send anyone with upper respiratory symptoms directly to test centers near the airport.
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