Authorities in the Chinese capital Beijing are investigating the case of a woman who arrived there from the virus-hit central city of Wuhan in defiance of travel restrictions, following her release from prison, Chinese media reported.
The woman, who was identified only by her surname Huang, had recently been released from Wuhan Women's Prison at the end of a 10-year jail term for corruption, according to the news website Caixin Global.
She later tested positive for the COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which has been ripping through the prison in recent weeks, it said.
Now, the authorities want to know how she was allowed to leave Wuhan when she already had flu-like symptoms that developed a day after her release on Feb. 18, defying a slew of transportation restrictions designed to keep the city in lockdown.
"The ministry of justice took over the investigation on Feb. 26 ... of a woman who arrived in Beijing infected with coronavirus after being released from Wuhan Women's Prison," the ministry said in a statement on its official website.
Beijing's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said at least 230 coronavirus cases have been confirmed at the prison so far.
Yet, prison officials called her family to come and meet her without informing them of the situation, which they only learned on the way back to Beijing.
Transportation routes out of Wuhan have been shut down since Jan. 23 to prevent the spread of infection.
In previous cases, according to Caixin, authorities have found lodging for released prison inmates who aren't from Wuhan.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said the case shows that the so-called quarantine lockdown of major cities is full of loopholes.
"The defenses preventing people from leaving Hubei, and those preventing people from coming to Beijing are basically cosmetic and full of loopholes," he said.
"This is extremely irresponsible, regardless of whether it's the doing of the CDC or the police," he said.
Hong Kong current affairs commentator Sang Pu said there are also big question marks around how the woman's family were allowed to arrive in Wuhan to collect her in the first place.
"Wasn't it supposed to be sealed off? How is it possible that she was then driven from Wuhan to Beijing with no obstacles along the way?" Sang said.
He said the incident suggested the influence of someone powerful behind the scenes.
"I don't think for a minute that the investigation team will get to the bottom of this," he said. "If this were the doing of a low-ranking minion, then maybe they could punish them and make an example of them."
"But if it's a high-ranking official, they'll never find out."
The ruling Chinese Communist Party’s secretary for Hubei province, Ying Yong, has previously said that Hubei is totally cut off from the rest of China.
Beijing activist Hu Jia said the case of Huang could just be the tip of the iceberg.
"Ying Yong has promised that Hubei will carry out its epidemic prevention duties to the death," Hu said. "But who knows how many loopholes are hiding behind such boasts?"
Ying has previously been regarded as a low-key but loyal supporter of President Xi Jinping, and has served under him in the governments of Shanghai and the eastern province of Zhejiang.
As of Feb. 23, the authorities had reported more than 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in prisons in Hubei, most of which were in Wuhan Women's Prison.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.