Chinese state-run television announced on its website Friday evening that everyone returning to Beijing would be required to isolate themselves for 14 days.
Anyone who does not comply “shall be held accountable according to law,” according to a text of the order released by state television. The order was issued by a Communist Party “leading group” at the municipal level, not the national Communist Party.
It was the latest sign that China’s leaders were still struggling to set the right balance between restarting the economy and continuing to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the country’s top officials met and issued orders that included a mandate to help people to return to 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 although national leaders may be worried that travel restrictions and quarantines may be preventing companies from finding enough workers to resume full production, that did not stop Beijing municipal leaders from further tightening controls Friday evening in the city.
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 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 reemerging lately.
Even before Beijing issued its new rules, neighborhood committees had been playing an increasingly assertive role across the country, including in Shanghai. They have been demanding that recent returnees isolate themselves for 14 days upon arrival, venturing out for little except food.
Health officials in the United States will begin testing some people with flulike symptoms for infection with the coronavirus.
Patients in five cities will be tested if their flu tests are negative, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, at a news briefing Friday.
Health officials will use a nationwide surveillance network that had already been set up to track influenza, she said. The five cities are Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
“We need to be prepared for the possibility it will spread,” Messonnier said.
So far, there have been only 15 coronavirus cases in the United States.
The new testing program was first announced Thursday by Alex Azar, secretary of health and human services, speaking to a Senate panel.
International Olympic Committee officials Friday said that the Summer Games in Tokyo would go on as planned, citing discussions with the World Health Organization.
“Certainly the advice we have received externally from the WHO is that there is no case for any contingency plans or canceling the Games or moving the Games,” John Coates, head of an IOC inspection team, told reporters. Asked if he was “100% confident” that the Games would take place, Coates said, “Yes.”
A spokesman for the WHO said in an e-mailed statement that the organization was not advising that large gatherings be canceled.
Dr. Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, told reporters at a briefing Friday that experts were monitoring the situation and no final guidance had been given on the matter.
“It’s not the role of WHO to call off or not call off any event,” Ryan said, adding that the organization was offering technical advice about risk assessment and response measures. “It is the decision of hosting countries and the organizing agencies to make that decision.”
The Games are scheduled to take place between July 24 and Aug. 9 this summer in Japan, the country that has endured the largest number of coronavirus cases outside China — over 250, including 218 aboard a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama. On Thursday, Japanese authorities announced the country’s first death of a patient who had contracted the virus.
Numbers continued to climb after the government changed the criteria by which it tracks confirmed cases. China on Friday reported 5,090 new coronavirus cases and 121 new deaths in the previous 24 hours.
Authorities said a total of 63,851 people had been infected by the coronavirus and at least 1,380 had been killed by the epidemic. Most of the cases occurred in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, which recorded 4,823 new cases and 116 deaths over the same period.
The tally in Hubei jumped most drastically Thursday after authorities changed the diagnostic criteria for counting new cases. The government now takes into account cases diagnosed in clinical settings, including the use of CT scans, and not just those confirmed with specialized testing kits.