(Photo: Sixth Tone)
Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Tangshan announced Saturday that they will not provide free coronavirus-related medical treatment to people arriving from abroad who lie about their travel histories or contact with confirmed patients, or who refuse to comply with local outbreak control and prevention measures — regardless of whether they are Chinese or foreign.
Weeks after COVID-19 was detected in the central city of Wuhan, the Chinese government announced on Jan. 23 that it would offer free treatment to anyone infected with the novel coronavirus. Five days later, authorities expanded the free-treatment plan to cover suspected cases as well.
Tangshan hasn’t recorded any new cases of COVID-19 in the past 20 days, though two patients remain hospitalized out of 58 total cases confirmed in the city.
Meanwhile, numbers of newly confirmed cases in Wuhan have held steady in single digits over the past three days, even as China must now deal with the risk of infected people arriving from abroad, especially hard-hit countries like Italy, Iran, and South Korea. The coastal city of Tangshan lies just across the Bohai Sea from Seoul.
On Friday, seven COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Beijing, Shanghai, and Gansu province among passengers arriving from the U.S., Italy, and Saudi Arabia. By the end of the day, nearly 100 similar cases had been reported in China.
Dozens of ambulances and epidemic control officers were dispatched to Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Friday after four passengers arriving from Frankfurt recorded irregular temperatures. They, along with their companions and two others who admitted to taking anti-flu medication before boarding the flight, were taken to hospital, while 30 others from the flight deemed to be at high risk of infection were quarantined, as were all 13 members of the flight crew.
Apart from these suspected COVID-19 cases, Shanghai confirmed four cases on Friday, all of them travelers from Italy.
“Shanghai is definitely under huge pressure to screen potential infected passengers arriving from abroad,” said Xu Wei, a resident of a Pudong New Area residential compound where one COVID-19 case was confirmed Thursday. “For us average residents, we’re also at risk when foreign countries don’t take the virus seriously.”
The Pudong patient, a Chinese citizen working in the U.S., had arrived in Shanghai from New York on Tuesday, and had stayed at home until developing symptoms on Thursday.
“Homestay quarantine makes those of us living in the same area with the patient feel upset,” Xu told Sixth Tone. “Because the virus is so tricky and people can arrive without symptoms even if they’ve already been infected, it puts our home city at great risk. If people lie, it will make the situation even worse.”
A case confirmed Wednesday in Zhengzhou, capital of the central Henan province, attracted national attention this week. The 29-year-old patient had traveled from Beijing to Abu Dhabi, then onward to Milan and Paris, between March 1 and March 6. He caught a train in Beijing and arrived March 7 in Zhengzhou, where he went straight back to work.
The man ran a fever on March 10, but he and his family lied about his travels abroad. After he was ultimately diagnosed with COVID-19, his name became a trending hashtag on microblogging platform Weibo, attracting 480 million views by Saturday afternoon. Thousands of people have blamed him and his family for what they see as flagrant irresponsibility.
Prior to this case, Henan — one of the most populous provinces in China — had not recorded a single new COVID-19 infection for 12 days.
Similar cases of people lying about their health conditions or travel histories have also been reported in Beijing. Two people took anti-fever medication before boarding a flight from Italy to Beijing on March 4, and did not honestly report their health conditions upon arrival. Both later tested positive for the coronavirus.
Legal experts say such disingenuous behavior can constitute impeding the control and prevention of infectious diseases, with violators facing up to seven years in prison, according to China’s criminal law.