KATHMANDU—Armed police are easing their quarantine blockade around the mainly Tibetan town of Tsigorthang (in Chinese, Ziketan), in the Tsolho (in Chinese, Hainan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of China’s western Qinghai province, and businesses are starting to reopen after the deaths of at least three Tibetan nomads from a rare lung plague, residents and officials say.
"People are coming back. Restaurants, shops, hotels are reopening," one resident said in a telephone interview.
"The plague is now under control," a government employee said. "Some of the roadblocks are cleared now and the rest will be cleared in the next few days."
Tsigorthang, a remote town with a population of 10,000, was locked down last Saturday in a bid to contain the spread of the highly virulent disease.
Three or four deaths
"Twelve people have been diagnosed with lung plague," including three or four fatalities, an employee at Tsigorthang's Tibetan Medicine Hospital said in an interview.
"They are under intensive care by medical teams from Ziling [in Chinese, Xining]."
The first fatality was a Tibetan nomad who died three days after burying his dog, which apparently came into contact with a diseased marmot.
More infections were reported after the man’s funeral, residents said.
Another resident said armed police had ringed the town to prevent residents from fleeing and possibly spreading the plague, but added, “Many people have escaped the quarantine and run to the hills.”
Chinese Health Ministry experts quoted by the official Xinhua news agency said the strict quarantine measures were proving effective and the outbreak was unlikely to spread further.
The quarantine zone covers an area of 3,500 square kms (1,400 square miles) centered on the town.
Pneumonic plague is spread through the air and can be passed from person to person through coughing.
The World Health Organization says the bacteria which causes the plague is endemic in some rodents in the region, such as marmots.
The WHO says pneumonic plague is the most virulent but least common form of plague. The mortality rate is high and patients can die 24 hours after infection.
Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.