Coronavirus pandemic

Beijing-bound flights to stop for health checks at other airports first

A photo taken on March 17, 2020 shows a traveller with a protective mask waiting with her lugage in an empty area outside the Capital International Airport in Beijing. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The Civil Aviation Administration of China yesterday announced that all flights to Beijing will first have to stop at one of 12 designated airports for health checks before being allowed into the capital as the country steps up efforts to keep out imported coronavirus cases.

Beginning today, all international flights bound for Beijing will first land at another airport where passengers will undergo health screenings, said several government agencies at a press conference announcing the changes, an expansion of current measures.

Airports include nearby Tianjin and Dalian, but also range as far as Shanghai and Qingdao. Singapore Airlines flights to Beijing will have to stop at Nanjing airport.

Passengers will be made to disembark for health checks and those who pass will be allowed to reboard the plane, which will then fly to Beijing.

Strict rules are already in place for all international travellers entering the capital city, including a two-week mandatory quarantine at a designated location.

The expanded measures come as China yesterday reported 46 new coronavirus infections. All but one are imported cases.

For the first time in three days, the country reported a new local infection, in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou. According to the local health authorities, it is the first known case where a local infection was linked to someone arriving from overseas.

There are now 314 imported cases, 97 of which surfaced in Beijing, the municipal health authorities said yesterday. Four of them are from a family of six returning from Britain who had transited in Singapore.

Once the worst-hit country, China is keen to keep a lid on cases as infections rise globally and dozens of countries go into lockdown.

But there are fears of a second wave of infections from returning Chinese - mostly students - trying to escape the global pandemic.

This is especially since Beijing's onerous rules are not uniformly enforced across the country.

The nationalistic Global Times tabloid's editor-in-chief Hu Xijin called on all cities to implement a 14-day quarantine for international arrivals, asking that it also apply to those entering from Hong Kong and Macau.

"I am worried that there are similar cases to the Guangzhou one existing in other parts of the country. There were reports previously that people coming back from abroad returned to their homes in Shanghai without any obstacles," he wrote on his Weibo social media account.

"It matters to the overall situation of China's next prevention and control efforts if we can plug the leaks."

Separately, Shanghai and Guangzhou both said that all arriving international passengers will undergo a genetic test known as the RNA test to screen for the coronavirus, expanding a programme that previously applied only to those coming from heavily hit countries.

China is attempting to revitalise an economy that is widely expected to contract this quarter, with life in Beijing and financial hub Shanghai gradually returning to normal.

A central bank official yesterday called for stepped-up global policy coordination to manage the economic impact of the pandemic, saying that China's recent measures have gained traction.

Significant improvements are expected in the second quarter, said Mr Chen Yulu, a deputy governor at the People's Bank of China.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2020, with the headline Beijing-bound flights to stop for health checks at other airports first. Subscribe