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Rare plea for help as China's zero tolerance for COVID hits border town

WorldOct 28, 2021 08:37AM ET
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© Reuters. Staff members in protective suits check proof of negative test results for travellers at an entrance to the Harbin West Railway Station following new local cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China September 22, 2

BEIJING (Reuters) - A former vice mayor of a Chinese town on the border with Myanmar lamented local lockdowns and disruptions caused by repeated COVID-19 outbreaks and wrote a rare plea for a "strong" helping hand from Beijing.

Ruili, in the province of Yunnan, has faced some of the toughest curbs in the country under Beijing's zero-tolerance policy, as a key international transit point for southwest China, following multiple outbreaks since last year.

China's border towns, faced with a higher risk of infection from overseas and many equipped with relatively few resources, have tended to suffer more severe disruptions than richer cities.

"Since this small town has assumed the responsibility for the epidemic prevention and control of the whole country, our motherland should extend a strong hand to protect this tortured child," wrote Dai Rongli, vice mayor of Ruili in 2018, on his WeChat account in a rare show of angst over China's COVID curbs.

This remote corner of China has been plagued with reports of asymptomatic carriers in recent days. While not in full lockdown, Ruili does not encourage its more than 200,000 residents to leave town. Those who insist, excluding those planning essential travel, would have to be quarantined for at least seven days before departure.

"The long-term closure of the town has formed a deadlock in the town's development," Dai wrote. "It's necessary to resume production and trade."

The Ruili government did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

China's COVID-hit city of Ruili https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CHINA-RUILI/byvrjrwmmve/chart.png

NORTHEAST CHINA

In the northeast, a few border cities started to tighten COVID-19 measures as China combats an outbreak hitting mainly the north.

China reported 23 locally transmitted symptomatic cases for Wednesday, official data showed on Thursday, bringing the total number to 270 since Oct. 17, when the current outbreak began.

Although the tally is tiny compared with infections elsewhere in the world, the spread to more than a dozen provincial areas has forced officials to toughen restrictions, squeezing the service sector, including tourism and catering companies.

In northeastern Heilongjiang province, which shares a border with Russia, Heihe city detected one local confirmed case on Wednesday.

The city of 1.3 million demanded the suspension of manufacturing activities and business operations in urban areas, except for essential ones, and cut transport services within those areas as well as outbound routes.

Northern Chinese cities grappling with local COVID-19 infections since mid-October https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CHINA/gkplgxygmvb/chart.png

'EXTREME CAUTION'

China's high vaccination rate should in principle allow it to shift to a less disruptive strategy, said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics.

As of Oct. 23, 76% of China's 1.41 billion population had received full doses.

"But extreme caution prevails," he said. "Any shift seems unlikely until at least after the Winter Olympics in February."

Jiamusi city, also on the Heilongjiang-Russia border, has yet to report cases in the latest outbreak but has banned individuals arriving from outside from entering the city's tourist sites for seven-days.

Another two cities in Heilongjiang, Jixi and Mudanjiang, pledged to enter into a "pre-war" mode of high vigilance and stringent monitoring, though no local infections have been reported in the past week.

Rare plea for help as China's zero tolerance for COVID hits border town
 

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