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China Faces Fresh Virus Threat From Its Border With Russia

  • Infected people enter China through land border with Russia
  • Imported infections from Russia account for one third in April
Employees work at a sanitizer products workshop in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, March 23.

Employees work at a sanitizer products workshop in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, March 23.

Photographer: Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

China is facing a wave of coronavirus infections from Russia, with more than half of the country’s total imported cases in the past two days coming through its northeastern land border.

Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province that borders Russia, has reported 60 imported cases this month, according to the Health Commission of Heilongjiang Province. All but one entered the Chinese border by car or coach from the nearby Russian city of Vladivostok, after they flew from Moscow, where more than half of Russia’s 6,300 cases have been reported.

The Russian cases account for one third of all the confirmed coronavirus infections China has detected in people traveling from other countries in April.

Imported infections have become a major threat to rekindling the virus in China after draconian measures managed to reduce local infections to a crawl. The jump in cases from Russia shows the challenge China faces in policing its land borders after aggressively reducing international flights to stem the flow of virus-carrying travelers.

China shares an extensive land border with Russia along its northeastern provinces such as Heilongjiang. Bustling trade and commerce connections between the people living in either border region keep cross-border traffic high during normal times. Now, with Russia shutting down international flights, the border has become one of the few entry ways for Chinese living in Russia to come home.

All the 59 people that crossed the border in Heilongjiang province in April are Chinese, a telling sign that the country’s diaspora are increasingly seeking refuge back in China as the virus epicenter has shifted to other places in Europe and the U.S.

Russia had been playing down the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. It has recorded 47 deaths so far, relatively low compared with other nations in Europe and the U.S. But Russia’s cases have spiked in recent days, with 954 new infections reported Monday, bringing its total to 6,343.

Beijing has urged overseas Chinese to stay where they are, for fear of stoking a new wave of infections at home. It has only sent chartered flights to evacuate citizens -- mostly students who studied overseas -- from virus hotspots such as Italy, Iran and the U.K.

China chopped down the number of flights operated by each foreign airline to only one per week late last month. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has also pledged to strengthen transportation control along border areas.

— With assistance by Sharon Chen, and Dong Lyu