Caixin
Jan 21, 2021 06:18 PM
CHINA

China Orders Boost to Disease Controls in Rural Areas Ahead of Holiday

Volunteers man a checkpoint at the entrance to a village in Changshan Town, Zouping, Shandong province on Jan. 17.
Volunteers man a checkpoint at the entrance to a village in Changshan Town, Zouping, Shandong province on Jan. 17.

China’s government has urged officials to step up disease controls in the countryside, as the nation battles significant Covid-19 outbreaks just weeks before the Lunar New Year holiday.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a notice Wednesday ordering local authorities to view epidemic prevention and management in rural areas as “a matter of the utmost importance” and keep track of people returning to their hometowns ahead of the country’s biggest annual festival.

The notice came after the National Health Commission (NHC) circulated an action plan mandating rural officials to ensure that returnees have recently tested negative for the coronavirus, which causes Covid-19, and to self-isolate at home on arrival.

The policies aim to further dampen interest among non-local residents in traveling across the country and gathering in groups during the weeklong holiday, which begins Feb. 11. New Covid-19 cases have continued to rise in China in recent weeks despite lockdowns and other control measures affecting tens of millions of people.

The State Council edict (link in Chinese) commands local governments to pay particular attention to disease controls around airports, along the urban fringe and in “rural areas with many returnee migrant workers.”

It also orders localities to conduct “centralized management” of waste created at airports where goods are imported from abroad, undertake “necessary preventative sterilization,” and strictly monitor workers exposed to cold chain products, which have been blamed for harboring viruses.

While the State Council diktat tells local authorities to register returnees on arrival, monitor their daily health and encourage them to stay home and take precautions against Covid-19, the NHC plan (link in Chinese) goes further, saying that all returnees must present a negative coronavirus test on arrival and quarantine at home for 14 days, and may not gather with other people during that time.

The rules will take effect from Jan. 28 to March 8 and apply to people returning to rural areas from other provinces or from medium- or high-risk areas within the same province, as well as to those working in the cold chain, at ports, on quarantine sites and in transportation, the agency wrote in an explanatory article (link in Chinese) published Wednesday on its website.

“Disease control capacity in rural areas is weak, and controlling the epidemic is difficult, especially as the number of people returning home during the Lunar New Year rush markedly increases … and further increases the risk of transmission,” the article says. “In order to strictly implement the strategy of preventing an internal (Covid-19) rebound, it is entirely necessary to strengthen the disease control and management of returnees.”

Demand for domestic air and train travel has slumped amid China’s virus resurgence, with the country’s three biggest airlines reporting declines in passenger numbers and ticketing platforms seeing sluggish interest in journeys along major rail routes in the run-up to the Lunar New Year.

China confirmed 144 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, 41 more than the previous day (links in Chinese), according to the NHC. Of those, 126 infections were locally transmitted, 38 more than Wednesday.

Clusters continue to grow in the northern and northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Hebei, the last of which surrounds Beijing. The capital logged two new local infections on Thursday, down from seven the day before.

Tens of millions of people, including residents of the Hebei provincial capital Shijiazhuang and the major commuter city of Langfang, remain under lockdown as part of official efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

At a press conference Wednesday, Feng Zijian, the deputy head of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a subsidiary of the NHC, said (link in Chinese) that the daily case numbers in Hebei indicated that “the growth of its outbreak has been visibly curbed.”

Hebei recorded 20 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases on Thursday, one more than the previous day. The northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin respectively added 68 and 33 such cases.

The Chinese mainland has now recorded 88,701 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 4,635 deaths, according to the NHC.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh (matthewwalsh@caixin.com) and editor Michael Bellart (michaelbellart@caixin.com)

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