The authorities in China tightened their coronavirus quarantine rules for Beijing on Friday, saying that all residents returning from outside the capital city would be required to isolate themselves for 14 days.
The order was the latest sign that China’s leaders were still struggling to set the right balance in battling the coronavirus contagion that began a few months ago in Wuhan, 600 miles to the capital’s south, while also restarting the economy, which has been hobbled by the epidemic.
As of Friday, the coronavirus had infected more than 66,000 people, nearly all of them in mainland China — including more than 1,700 medical workers — and killed more than 1,500 people, all but three of them in mainland China.
The infection also has reached into more than two dozen countries and territories, the latest being Egypt, which on Friday became the first country on the African continent to report a confirmed case. International health officials have expressed deep concern about coronavirus infections in Africa, where medical systems are among the least equipped to handle them.
This week, China’s top officials ordered people to return to their urban workplaces from their hometowns. Tens of millions had gone home to celebrate Lunar New Year holidays before the government acknowledged the seriousness of the epidemic. They have faced local government checkpoints on the way back to work and then lengthy quarantines upon their return to big cities.
But while national leaders may be worried that travel restrictions and quarantines may be preventing companies from having enough workers to resume full production, that did not stop Beijing municipal leaders from further tightening controls in the city on Friday evening.
The policy may reduce the chances that people returning from the hinterlands could infect the country’s elite.
The new rules also require those returning to the city to give advance warning of their arrival to the authorities in their residential area. China maintained extensive controls on citizens’ movements under Mao, and some of the institutions and rules from that period have been reimposed lately.
Even before Beijing issued its new rules, so-called neighborhood committees had been playing an increasingly assertive role across the country, including in Shanghai, the country’s largest city. The committees have been demanding that recent returnees isolate themselves for 14 days upon arrival, venturing out for little except food.
Anxiety about coronavirus transmissions has caused sharp drops in international travel and forced the cancellation or delay of many conferences and other events. But International Olympic Committee officials reiterated on Friday that the Summer Games in Tokyo would go on as planned, citing discussions with the World Health Organization.
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