China closed the main bridge linking the country with Myanmar on Tuesday and started a one-week lockdown of the border city Ruili after six local Covid-19 infections were reported.
The health commission of Yunnan province in southwestern China said in a statement that three new asymptomatic cases – which China does not classify as confirmed cases – were found in Ruili, along with the six confirmed infections on Tuesday.
It is the first time since February 5 that China has reported a local cluster. On Wednesday, the National Health Commission said China found 11 new Covid-19 cases on March 30. The other five cases were all imported.
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As well as strengthening public health measures, China has been bolstering security as the violent crackdown by Myanmar’s junta causes many Myanmese to flee the country, seeking refuge in China, Thailand and India.
Health authorities said one of the confirmed Covid-19 cases and three of the asymptomatic cases were Myanmese while the rest were Chinese.
Ruili deputy mayor Yang Mou said on Wednesday morning the city would enter a one-week lockdown and that 317 people identified as close contacts were under quarantine for medical observation.
Yang said the city expected to complete citywide nucleic acid sampling and testing by late Wednesday night, while provincial authorities had mobilised 1,800 medical personnel from neighbouring cities to help.
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Deputy police chief Cun Daipeng said nearly 4,000 security personnel had been mobilised to set up checkpoints at major traffic sites and border crossings, including the Jiegao bridge linking Ruili with Myanmar.
Lu Qing, a Ruili resident living near the bridge, has been using a loud hailer since Tuesday to remind drivers the bridge is closed and they must turn around.
“There were many armed police at the checkpoint and some carrying weapons. They work together with customs in setting up the blockades to seal off the bridge,” Lu said.
The Jiegao bridge is the main land crossing connecting China and Myanmar and carries nearly 80 per cent of cross-border trade with a daily average turnover of over 1,000 cargo vehicles.
Ruili also ordered a lockdown of the local Guomen residential estate in the city. While the official statement did not say how many residents were infected, a shop owner surnamed Huang who lives nearby said he had seen a lot of ambulances come and go since Tuesday.
“Many of us had gone through testing since yesterday. I queued until midnight [to get tested]. There were too many people. But there is no panic, as we have experienced this before,” Huang said.
Ruili police arrested two residents for smuggling two Myanmese infected with Covid-19 into the city last year and causing local spread, resulting in a week-long lockdown and blanket testing of the whole city from September 14.
The civilian death toll in the Myanmar military crackdown on protesters has reportedly passed 520 after more than 100 protesters were killed in a bloody weekend. On Tuesday, some ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar condemned the crackdown and threatened to fight alongside protesters unless the military stopped the violence.
A Ruili hotel owner told the Post that police had ordered that locals report people from Myanmar staying at Ruili hotels since February.
“They are probably concerned that the social turmoil in Myanmar will spill over. It will be a problem if there is a huge influx of refugees from Myanmar,” said the hotel owner who declined to be named.
“Many local residential estates also received similar instructions. But in Ruili, many of us have relatives in Myanmar. We certainly are very concerned about what is happening there and want to help.”
While Beijing is not condemning the military, Washington has suspended a trade pact with Myanmar. United Nations chief Antonio Guterres called for a united global front to pressure the junta government as world powers ramped up their condemnation of the military’s campaign against the anti-coup protests which are demanding elected government be restored and civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi be released.
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