China orders self-quarantine in capital as nation returns to work
BEIJING — China has ordered the thousands of people returning to its capital city Beijing to quarantine themselves, as the nation geared up to officially return to work today.
New arrivals should stay at home for observation for 14 days because it is sometimes unclear to the authorities which provinces they may have visited or transited in, said public health ministry official He Qinghua.
This is the latest in a series of tough measures being taken in China to contain the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed over 1,500 lives and infected tens of thousands.
In Beijing, a city of 21 million, effecting the quarantine would be a massive exercise after the Chinese New Year break, but the authorities are pressing ahead with it.
“From now on, all those who have returned to Beijing should stay at home or submit to group observation for 14 days after arriving,” the city’s authorities said in a notice.
Those who flout the rules will be “held accountable according to the law”, it added. It was not immediately clear what the penalties were.
Strict measures are also planned in other cities including Shanghai, while Honghu city in outbreak epicenter Hubei province imposed a “wartime” lock-down.
As hundreds of thousands of migrant workers return to cities, there will be special transport, each carrying medical staff and half its recommended passenger load to minimize contact. Companies have also introduced telecommuting, which could result in the world’s biggest remote workforce.
People are not the only ones being quarantined, so are bank-notes.
Used notes are being disinfected with ultraviolet light or high temperatures by banks, which will then seal and store the cash for seven to 14 days before recirculating them, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said at a press conference.
Most Chinese use electronic payments but older people still prefer using cash in daily transactions.
On Friday, the virus claimed 143 more lives, mostly in Hubei, said the National Health Commission, pushing the death toll to 1,523. Officials reported 2,641 new infections, bringing the total number of infections in mainland China to 66,492, according to its own figures.
An elderly Chinese tourist hospitalized in France died of the coronavirus, in what is believed to be China’s first fatality outside Asia.
Meanwhile, China is taking steps to get its bruised economy back on its feet. Banks will allow higher levels of bad loans to support firms hard hit by the epidemic.
“We will support qualified firms so that they can resume work and production as soon as possible, helping maintain stable operations of the economy and minimizing the epidemic’s impact,” said Mr Fan Yifei, a vice-governor at the PBOC.
Beijing would also accelerate lending and credit support for key investment projects and extend support to small and private firms throughout the outbreak.
The virtual shutdown of several cities, including the whole of Hubei province, has scuppered the spending and travel that boost the economy during Chinese New Year celebrations.
Economists polled by Reuters expected this quarter would show China’s slowest growth rate since the global financial crisis.
During a period when millions either travel home for the holidays or overseas for vacations, officials said post-holiday return travel had plunged by over 82 per cent.
The country is expected to go back to work tomorrow after the government extended the holiday by 10 days.
Meanwhile, a World Health Organization team of 12 international and WHO experts, along with a similar number of Chinese counterparts, is expected to start work this weekend.
The group is expected to make field visits to three provinces to understand disease transmission, the scale of the spread and the impact of China’s response measures.
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