In Tibetan Areas of China, New Infections Appear

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The entrance to Labrang monastery in China's Gansu province is shown closed as infection fears spread.
Photo from Tibet

Confirmed cases of coronavirus infection have begun to climb in Tibetan areas of China, with three cases now reported in northwestern China’s Qinghai province and two in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture of neighboring Sichuan, Chinese media sources say.

In Qinghai’s provincial capital Xining, a 42-year-old woman, 3-year-old girl, and 7-year-old boy are confirmed infected, state media say.

Meanwhile in Sichuan, a 33-year-old man in Kardze’s Rongtrag (Danba) county and a 25-year-old woman in Serthar (Seda) county are infected, according to a Khamba TV news website report on Jan. 23. Both patients had recently come back from Wuhan.

Media sources have not revealed whether the five patients now infected are ethnically Tibetan or Han Chinese, and no cases of coronavirus infection have yet been confirmed in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

Meanwhile, around 1,900 Tibetans studying in China’s Wuhan, where the virus first began to spread, have returned to the TAR, a Tibetan source living in the region said, adding, “Many of them have voluntarily gone to hospitals to be checked, while others are staying inside their homes.”

“Several hundred Tibetan students were studying in the Tibet Middle School in Wuhan, and the parents who could afford to evacuate their children back to Tibet or to other places have already done so,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“But there are other Tibetan children who are still stuck in Wuhan, and their well-being is a cause for concern,” he said.

Two students in the TAR’s Lhoka prefecture have meanwhile become unwell, RFA’s source said, adding, “The authorities suspect them of having coronavirus symptoms, and they are being kept in isolation.”

Monasteries, cultural sites close

In Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa, major public gathering sites such as the Jokhang temple, the Potala Palace, and the Norbulingka—summer home of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama—were closed on Monday,

In eastern Tibetan areas, major monasteries including Kumbum, Rebgong Riwo, Taktsang Lhamo Kirti, and Jakhyung, and in the TAR the well-known Tashilhunpo and Sakya monasteries were also closed to prevent the spread of disease, sources said.

Meanwhile, Lhasa City’s Bureau of Culture Relics has ordered the closing of cinemas, clubs, and internet cafes, and the Lhasa Tourism Development Bureau has told city guest houses and hotels—except for those designated by the TAR government as “emergency hotels”—to shut down by Jan. 29.

Speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service on Monday, one Lhasa resident pointed to what he called “a lack of experience and resources in handling such an epidemic in Tibet,” adding, “The capacities of medical staff to diagnose and treat the coronavirus infection in Tibet are not as great as in mainland China.”

“If there is a confirmed case of the virus in Tibet, it could quickly spread.”

“However, Chinese health officials have set up screening booths at the different entry points to Lhasa, and people are being screened for any suspected symptoms,” he said.

Meanwhile, two Chinese women from Wuhan who posted a video after arriving in Lhasa saying they weren’t afraid of falling ill have now been identified and are being monitored for signs of infection, a Lhasa police notice said on Jan. 25.

Reported by Lobe Socktsang and Kalden Lodoe for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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