Coronavirus China
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Harbin announced 36 new cases on Friday. Photo: Weibo

Chinese city battles to contain coronavirus clusters in two hospitals

  • Officials in Harbin have been punished for their handling of the case, in which an 87-year-old patient is thought to have infected 35 others
  • The Covid-19 infection has been traced back to a student who returned from the US and was cleared to leave quarantine after 14 days

The northeastern Chinese city of Harbin is battling to contain two new Covid-19 clusters linked to local hospitals.

On Friday the local government in the capital of Heilongjiang appealed to people who had visited the hospitals between April 2 and 9 to get tested for the disease and announced that 36 people had already tested positive. It also announced that some officials had been punished for their “lax” handling of the outbreak.

The outbreak was traced to an 87-year old named Chen, who been treated for a cerebral stroke in Harbin No 2 Hospital between April 2 and 6 was then transferred to First Hospital affiliated to Harbin Medical University.

The man is believed to have passed on the infection to relatives and hospital staff, some of whom tested positive before they showed any symptoms.

Coronavirus: China reinforces borders as it tries to fend off another wave of infections

But officials have further traced the infection back to a student who had spent 14 days in quarantine at her home after returning from the US on March 19.

The 22-year-old woman tested negative in both nucleic and antibody tests and was removed from quarantine on April 3.

She has since been retested and gave a positive result for immunoglobulin G, the predominant antibody in the response to infection.

But Harbin’s centres for disease control and police now believe that the infection had been passed on to a neighbour who used the same elevator as the student and three other people linked to that neighbour.

One of the three was a 54-year-old man named Guo who had dinner with Chen on March 29. The following day Guo visited a clinic for a consultation about fever medicine but did not seek further treatment. He was given a CAT scan on April 3 in Harbin Chest Hospital, but was not admitted.

Four days later he was admitted to Harbin No 2 hospital and tested positive for Covid-19 on April 9.

China tightens controls on Russia border as number of imported coronavirus cases continues to rise

In the meantime Chen started showing signs of fever on April 6 while being treated for the stroke in No 2 Hospital.

That day he was transferred to the First Hospital Affiliated to Harbin Medical University, but he was admitted to a respiratory diseases ward rather than being placed in isolation.

He stayed there for three days before being transferred to the fever clinic and tested for coronavirus.

By then he is thought to have infected 35 others, including his four children as well as patients, relatives and medical staff at the two hospitals.

“The return of the virus in Harbin shows that some officials are lax in their anti-epidemic work, leading to the loss of prevention and control in some areas and units,” Zhang Qingwei, the provincial party chief, said on Friday.

The Heilongjiang Committee for Discipline Inspection said on Friday that Chen Xuefei, a vice mayor of Harbin in charge of coronavirus epidemic control, had received a demerit record and other officials had also been punished.

Ding Fengshu, director of Harbin’s health commission, received a warning and demerit record while

Xu Yong, president of Harbin No 2 Hospital, was sacked and his party position removed.

Xu’s deputy Li Hongwei, Ji Binying, president of Harbin Chest Hospital and Bo Hong, vice-president of the First Hospital, were also given warnings.

Eleven other doctors and officials from these hospitals were either demoted or given warnings for their roles in the clusters.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Harbin battles to contain fresh clusters