China steps up border controls to stem virus cases from Russia


China’s northernmost province is stepping up border controls to stave off infections from neighbouring Russia, as a growing number of Chinese returning from there with the novel coronavirus threaten to trigger a new hotspot at home.

Heilongjiang province said it has begun around-the-clock patrols of its border with Russia, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday. China and Russia already agreed last week to close the Suifen River port on the border, the main checkpoint for land transit.

After China tamed its coronavirus outbreak using draconian lockdowns, it is now pivoting toward staving off cases from elsewhere, with Russia emerging as one of the biggest sources of such imported infections. China isn’t alone in facing new cases from abroad — others including Singapore and Australia are seeing increased infections as their governments bring citizens home from abroad to protect them from outbreaks in those nations.

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While the about 2,000-mile border is now effectively closed, the province is boosting its efforts to secure the region. Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang, tightened its rules over the weekend by extending quarantine periods for certain visitors to 28 days.

China has also converted an office building near the border into a makeshift hospital, ready to accommodate a spike of new infections. The Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control has dispatched experts to boost virus testing capabilities, while doctors and nurses, including those with experience in the epicentre of Hubei province, have been sent to the makeshift hospital, state news agency Xinhua reported Monday.

READ ALSO:China imposes restrictions on research into origins of coronavirus

Chinese living and working in Russia began to return home through the province in steady streams since the beginning of this month, with more than 100 found to have contracted the virus by the time they entered China. Most boarded a flight from Moscow to Vladivostok on Russia’s eastern end. They then continued by car or coach to the Suifen River land port, where they were then tested for the novel coronavirus. The arduous journey back home came as China chopped down the number of inbound international flights to just one per week for foreign carriers. One from Russia that landed in Shanghai on Saturday carried 51 passengers who tested positive for the virus, in a sign that the outbreak that is straining health services in Moscow is spilling over into China.

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