China moves to block new virus flare-up on Russian border

BEIJING (AP) — China is facing a new coronavirus flare-up along its remote northern border with Russia, far from the epicentre of Wuhan, where it has all but declared victory in the battle against the pandemic.

The frontier has been sealed and emergency medical units rushed to the area to prevent travellers from bringing the virus back from overseas. The virus originated in China, which is now striving to keep it virus out while the United States (US) and other countries struggle to bring their own epidemics under control.

The long, porous border of sprawling Heilongjiang province and neighbouring Inner Mongolia has much less travel than major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. But it is a popular alternative route into the country. Many Chinese live and work in Russia, where China has major investments encouraged by warm ties between Beijing and Moscow.

By Monday night, a field hospital was operating in the city of Suifenhe along the Russian border, equipped with a negative pressure lab to diagnose new cases. Staffed by 22 experts from the National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention under the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it will conduct nucleic acid tests and other forms of research to aid in virus control and prevention, allowing the city to test up to 1,000 cases per day, according to the CDC.

Suifenhe, a city of just under 70,000 that is frozen-in for much of the year, has at least 243 imported COVID-19 cases out of nearly 1,000 confirmed and suspected cases. More than 100 people in the area have tested positive for the virus but showed no symptoms.

Recent arrivals from Russia account for nearly half of China’s imported cases.

An office building converted into a temporary hospital in Suifenhe in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang Province. PHOTO: AP