A Chinese migrant in a northern Italian city working as a club steward was found to be responsible for at least seven new infections of the novel coronavirus in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, where the local contagion has been largely contained.
The 31-year-old woman, surnamed Wang, did not let her symptoms stop her homecoming trip from Bergamo near Milan to Zhejiang. She arrived at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport on Friday via a stopover in Moscow and took a chartered coach to Qingtian, a county in neighboring Zhejiang province that is home to a sizable Chinese diaspora scattered across many European countries.
Wang was swiftly put under compulsory isolation with a fever by local authorities in Qingtian, as virtually all provinces and cities throughout China slap quarantine orders on anyone entering from virus-stricken nations from Italy to Iran.
She tested positive for the highly infectious pneumonia, officially known as Covid-19, on Sunday, marking the first imported case in Zhejiang where there had been no new infections for almost a week thanks to sweeping community lockdowns and travel bans.
Six people who traveled with Wang also contracted the respiratory disease, including her husband, brother and four colleagues back in Bergamo. None had ever been to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, believed to be the breeding place of the virus, or the rest of Hubei province.
Shanghai has also scrambled to look for people, mostly those working at Pudong airport who may have had close contact with the seven infected, and so far 71 have been identified and isolated.
Local papers in the city revealed that none of the seven returnees from Italy had shown abnormal body temperatures as they walked past extensive temperature screening points after they got off their plane and went through immigration clearance at the airport.
A Chinese community leader in Italy told the China News Service that with the country’s deteriorating outbreak straining healthcare systems, more panicked Chinese students and workers may choose to flee Europe and return to China, bringing home the pathogen that first emerged in Wuhan in December.
Others who work as chefs and workers at restaurants in Italy had to return after the pandemic crippled local businesses.
Italy added 416 confirmed cases to its total count of 2,502 on Tuesday, more than twice the cluster of patients in Zhejiang, and with 79 deaths, Italy has the highest toll among countries hit by the epidemic outside China, while only one infected person died in Zhejiang so far.
Zhejiang, with almost one million businesspeople and workers and their families in Italy and other European countries, has reportedly imposed a 20-day quarantine order on anyone returning from Italy.
The affluent coastal province finds itself on the forefront of China’s defense against a likely inflow of cases, due to its extensive overseas connections and well-developed transportation infrastructure. Cadres in the province were told not to lower their vigilance against the infection risks arising from returning residents, so as not to negate the province’s much-praised efforts to curb the viral spread.
Beijing and Ningxia, a central autonomous region populated by ethnically Chinese adherents of Islam, have each reported two cases among travelers from Iran. The southern city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province is also treating an infected resident who returned from Britain via Hong Kong. All the confirmed imported cases involve Chinese nationals returning from abroad.
China announced 115 new cases in Hubei and only four elsewhere in the country on Wednesday, sustaining a drop in fresh cases for a third consecutive day. Officials claim the trend is a clear indication that the stringent measures ranging from sealing off cities to treating the infected in designated hospitals are paying off, and the plague has been largely “vanquished.”
Yet there are lingering doubts about the reliability of China’s official figures due to rampant under-reporting.