The land border between China and Russia has been closed, China's foreign ministry said on Thursday, while state-run media reported a border city in Heilongjiang province went into lockdown after it reported 40 new cases on Wednesday, all Chinese nationals who returned from the Russian side.
The temporary border closure came as the Chinese city of Suifenhe in Heilongjiang province on the border with Russia was put on lockdown after it reported 40 new cases on Wednesday, all Chinese nationals who returned from the Russian side of the frontier, according to several state media reports.
On Tuesday, Russia's TASS news agency reported 20 new coronavirus cases among Chinese citizens all of whom arrived Vladivostok on an Aeroflot flight on April 3, then crossed the Russian-Chinese land border the following day at Suifenhe.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news conference unknown number of Chinese nationals stranded on the Russian side of the border.
"The Chinese embassy in Russia recently learned from the relevant authorities of both China and Russia that all land passenger crossings between China and Russia have been temporarily closed," in Beijing.
He said the embassy had told Chinese citizens in Russia to "pay close attention to the above information, abide by the relevant Russian rules, conduct self-isolation, strengthen self-protection, avoid long-distance travel, and respond scientifically to the outbreak."
Zhao was unable to confirm whether goods traffic was still being allowed across the border, however. State media reports carrying the Moscow embassy's statement did not say when the checkpoints would be reopened along the nearly 2,700 mile-long border.
TASS reported on Thursday that the country had 10,131 confirmed coronavirus cases--two thirds of them in Moscow--with 76 COVID-19 deaths.
Meanwhile, the easing of lockdown restrictions in a number of Chinese provinces and cities has led to conflicting advice about facial masks, prompting fears of a resurgence in coronavirus cases as China goes back to work.
Authorities in Guangzhou, Anhui, Hainan, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Hunan and Liaoning have all issued guidelines suggesting that it is unnecessary to wear masks when nobody else is around.
In the eastern city of Hangzhou, the authorities have stopped compulsory body temperature checks in public places.
Concern about relaxing guard too soon
Chen Bingzhong, former director of the China Institute of Health Education under the ministry of health, said he is concerned that making such advice official could be dangerous, as asymptomatic individuals can't be identified, but can still transmit the coronavirus to others without a mask.
"There is quite a high proportion of people infected with the virus who experience no symptoms or mild symptoms -- about 60 percent," Chen said.
"Yet they are all carriers, and they are all capable of transmitting it to other people," he said.
"People may relax their guard if they think there is no disease around, no outbreak," he said. "But they shouldn't do that, because it is there but still hidden."
"Wearing masks is absolutely necessary," Chen said, adding that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is playing down the severity of the threat because they want to keep the numbers low.
In the central province of Hunan, which borders worst-hit Hubei, rights activist Ou Biaofeng said he will continue to steer clear of large gatherings of people, in spite of official assurances that the epidemic is under control.
"I don't think the Chinese official reports of [coronavirus] cases are very credible, so if I go out I always drive alone and go to places where there won't be too many people," Ou told RFA.
In Wuhan, which saw 2,574 of the deaths reported by the National Health Commission, representing 80 percent of China’s total of 3,215, auto factories and other key economic players reopened following the lockdown that began in late January.
Thousands of people were once more on the street, albeit the majority of them wearing face masks.
Wuhan accounted for 2,574 of the deaths reported by the National Health Commission as of Thursday, or 80% of China’s total of 3,215. It had 50,008 of the mainland’s 67,803 confirmed cases.
The ruling Communist Party started easing controls in early March to try to revive the world’s second-largest economy after declaring victory over the virus as daily numbers of newly reported cases declined.
Auto factories and other businesses deemed essential for the national economy or that produced daily necessities reopened. Some businesses including real estate agencies are still closed.
But Zhang Dingyu, director of the city's Jinyintan Hospital, said the virus is far from being eradicated.
“The virus will survive with human beings in the future, so we have to think about how to deploy the next step,” Zhang told the Associated Press. “We used to focus on flu, AIDS and hand-foot-mouth disease, but now we need to have a ward or an area to deal with this disease (COVID-19)."
The UN Security Council was scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the coronavirus pandemic for the first time.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to focus on efforts to fight the pandemic, peacekeeping missions and fostering unity between the non-permanent members and the five permanent ones in the teleconferenced meeting.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.