Chinese authorities close border town as Myanmar battles outbreak

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Chinese authorities closed a Myanmar border town on Wednesday, shutting down most businesses and forcing residents to stay at home as a new COVID-19 outbreak spread.

Another 15 cases were found in Ruili in the past 24 hours, in addition to six in the previous two days, health officials in southwest Yunnan province said. Additionally, two people without symptoms of COVID-19 have also tested positive for the virus.

The lockdown has closed all businesses and public institutions except hospitals, pharmacies and essential stores such as grocery stores, according to a notice posted online. It affects the urban part of Ruili, which, like most Chinese cities, includes the surrounding rural areas within its jurisdiction.

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker takes a swab sample for a nucleic acid test in Ruili City, southwest China's Yunnan Province, July 5, 2021. (Wang Guansen / Xinhua via AP)
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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a medical worker takes a swab sample for a nucleic acid test in Ruili City, southwest China’s Yunnan Province, July 5, 2021. (Wang Guansen / Xinhua via AP)

Myanmar is grappling with a large epidemic with limited resources to contain it. The Southeast Asian nation has reported 3,602 new cases in the past 24 hours, state media said on Wednesday, its highest daily total since the start of the pandemic.

Ruili sits across a river from the town of Muse in Myanmar’s Shan State. China’s anti-virus measures have dealt a blow to active cross-border trade between the two countries, Chinese state newspaper Global Times reported earlier this week.

Authorities had already banned unnecessary travel to and from Ruili on Monday after the first cases were reported.

All of the cases have been reported in a border community in Ruili called Jiegao, which has been designated as a high risk area. They include both Chinese and Burmese nationals. The latest cases were discovered in mass testing, and authorities said they would tighten border controls.

Elsewhere in China, 52 people who arrived on a flight from Afghanistan five days ago have tested positive for the virus, the Hubei provincial health commission said. Thirty were classified as confirmed cases, while the remaining 22 had no symptoms of COVID-19. China does not include asymptomatic cases in its official tally.

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China has regularly imported travelers’ cases, but generally in smaller numbers. The July 2 Xiamen Air flight flew from Kabul to Wuhan, the city hard hit by the virus after it was first detected there in late 2019. Virtually everyone arriving in China must self-quarantine for two weeks in a designated hotel.

Ruili launched a city-wide vaccination campaign in April following an outbreak in March.

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China has relied on a strict lockdown strategy and mass testing to curb outbreaks, even as it has stepped up the pace of vaccinations. Central health officials have said they want to vaccinate 80% of the population.

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