Coronavirus: Clashes break out at Hubei border as quarantine is lifted

WUHAN • Dozens of people clashed on the Hubei border after the Chinese government lifted a two-month quarantine on Hubei province, the epicentre of China’s outbreak, highlighting the challenges of undoing the unprecedented measures taken to contain the virus.

The conflict began on Friday morning on a bridge connecting Hubei and neighbouring Jiangxi province, as policemen from both sides argued over how to verify if people were allowed to enter Jiangxi, local media reported.

Videos of the incident showed a chaotic scene as citizens from Hubei joined the fracas, standing on police cars and overturning vehicles. One clip showed the Hubei residents demanding an apology from the Jiangxi police for setting up a checkpoint on the border.

Mr Ma Yanzhou, the highest-ranking Communist Party official in the Hubei county involved, was seen shouting at the crowd with a megaphone in a bid to calm people.

Order resumed at about 5pm on Friday, according to Beijing News.

The two counties on either side of the clash said in a joint statement yesterday that checkpoints between them would be removed and no special documentation would be needed to cross.

The tensions underscore the pent-up frustrations of people freed from lockdowns and the discrimination they may face reintegrating into communities.

Hubei residents endured weeks of being cut off from the rest of China before the quarantine was lifted last Wednesday, while many outside the province still fear people arriving from there could bring the highly contagious coronavirus.

Yesterday, state-run People’s Daily posted a commentary admonishing those involved in the clash, saying that Hubei residents were “our compatriots”.

Hubei reported that new infections had dropped to zero on March 19, a dramatic plunge from the height of an epidemic that has infected more than 81,000 and killed over 3,200 in mainland China.

But with the virus accelerating its spread globally and local media reporting that unrecorded cases are being discovered daily in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, China is struggling to balance the risk of a second wave of infections with easing restrictions so that its economy can get back on track.

Wuhan, a city of 11 million where the coronavirus was reported to have first emerged late last year, partly reopened yesterday after more than two months of almost total isolation.

It is the last area of Hubei province to see overland travel restrictions lifted, although some highways leading into the city had reopened earlier in the week.

People are now allowed to enter Wuhan but not leave, and many trains arriving yesterday had been fully booked days in advance. All arrivals have to show a green code on a mobile app to prove that they are healthy.

Restrictions on residents heading out of Wuhan will not be lifted until April 8, when the airport will also reopen for domestic flights.

A study last week found that the lockdown in Wuhan had succeeded in stopping the virus in its tracks but warned against opening up the city too soon.

Mr Liu Dongru of the Hubei Health Commission said that although parts of Wuhan had been reclassified as “low-risk”, work to control the virus must continue.

“Zero reported cases does not equal zero risk,” he said.


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