BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese jade trading hub on the border with Myanmar vowed strict control over domestic outbound travel to halt the spread of COVID-19, sustaining some of the toughest zero-tolerance policies in China despite economic costs.
After suffering intermittent waves of outbreaks, Ruili has imposed some of the most stringent domestic travel restrictions in China, including self-funded quarantine of at least seven days at centralised facilities for those wishing to leave the city for non-urgent matters.
“People are going through a very difficult time,” the city’s Communist Party said in a statement, citing Ruili’s Vice Mayor Yang Mou at a news conference.
“It is necessary to continue with a strict policy on leaving the city to make sure … the virus control situation in the whole province and in the whole country are not affected,” Yang said.
The controls on departures were temporary and would be adjusted according to the epidemic situation, Yang said, without giving a timeline.
As parts of the world reopen and prepare to live with COVID-19, China is clinging to zero-tolerance, priding itself for largely stamping out the virus within its borders while the disease rages on in other countries and new variants surface.
Illegal crossings of infected people from Myanmar are a problem for Ruili’s zero-virus goal, which is not helped by a lack of natural barriers such as mountains, Yin Zhongde, another vice mayor of Ruili, told the briefing.
Since Oct. 1, Ruili has reported two domestic symptomatic cases and 17 asymptomatic infections, while more than 20% of people recently returning from abroad had tested positive, Ruili’s mayor Shang Labian was quoted as saying.
Ruili’s once robust gemstone sector, which has employed more than 80,000 people in a city of fewer than 300,000 residents, has been disrupted by the virus curbs.
The city had said four clusters in the past had been linked to the sector, with the gathering of vendors and workers undermining efforts to curb the virus, prolonging a lockdown in Ruili’s urban areas during a July outbreak.
To contain the outbreaks, Ruili has banned delivery of jade and live-streaming on the internet to promote sales of the semi-precious stone that is mined in Myanmar.
Dai Rongli, a former vice mayor of Ruili, on Thursday lamented on social media the locking down of communities and closure of businesses that had worn out residents and called for help from Beijing.
But current mayor Shang, in an interview with state-backed The Paper, said the city did not need outside help for now.
Some of the data in Dai’s social media post was outdated, Shang maintained.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Roxanne Liu; Editing by Himani Sarkar)