Russia’s Covid-19 surge means China cannot fully relax its guard

By Published May 05, 2020

China recently set a new date of May 21 for its annual “two sessions”, the country’s top political meetings, the surest sign that Beijing is confident its Covid-19 outbreak is under control. Despite this bold move, there are still concerns that the country is vulnerable to a new wave of infections from Russia, which recently saw an eruption of new cases.

New cases per day in Russia

Russia confirmed its first Covid-19 cases on January 31 and suspended all flights to China on February 14. The number of cases in Russia surged from 2,777 on April 1 to more than 100,000 by the end of the month.

How many cases of coronavirus in china?

The first cases of novel coronavirus were reported in Wuhan, China, in December. Since then, the virus has infected more than 3.5 million people, killing almost 250,000 of them. Mainland China itself has reported a total of almost 84,000 cases, and while new domestic infections dropped into the single digits in March, there remains a significant number of imported cases, with 1,676 reported since the start of the outbreak, according to the National Health Commission.

While there is little doubt the downward trend in China is accurate, the exact number of cases has been the cause of much discussion, with a research paper published in The Lancet medical journal by University of Hong Kong researchers suggesting that mainland China may have as many as four times the number of cases the authorities claim.

Daily cases per day

China reported its first imported cases on February 26, after the small autonomous region of Ningxia confirmed that a patient travelling from Iran had tested positive. By March 13, the country’s imported cases surpassed the daily number of local transmissions.

Here, we take a look at China’s imported cases from official data released by the national and local health commissions of China.

Heilongjiang and Guangdong provinces, along with Shanghai and Beijing, have the highest number of imported cases, and together account for 64 per cent of mainland China’s total imported cases.

A patient who arrived in Shanghai on February 27, having travelled from Iran via Russia, became China’s first imported coronavirus case. More infected patients arrived from Italy, Spain, and Iran, contributing to the first wave of imported cases in mainland China.

In March, the repatriation of Chinese citizens, including overseas students from the US and UK, resulted in a sharp rise in the number of imported cases. China reported no new locally spread infections for the first time in the same month.

In April, Russia overtook Britain as China’s biggest overseas source of Covid-19 infections, accounting for 78 per cent of imported cases. When clusters of middle-aged merchants from Moscow’s Lyublino and Sadovod markets tested positive for the coronavirus, China's ambassador to Russia, Zhang Hanhui, pointed out that there were about 160,000 Chinese living in Russia.

As the rest of China cautiously opened up, the remote border town of Suifenhe became a new hotspot with infections imported from Russia. The patients were returning Chinese citizens who flew from Moscow to Vladivostok, and entered Heilongjiang province via Suifenhe. With Heilongjiang accounting for more than 60 per cent of Russian-imported cases, China tightened border controls to divert imported cases to other provinces.


Suifenhe is a county-level city in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang with a population of 70,000. It shares a 27km-long border with Russia and is the only Chinese city in which trading with the Russian rouble is legal. The cross-border railway is an important freight transport link but most travellers arrive at the Suifenhe checkpoint having endured a three-hour bus ride from Vladivostok. China temporarily shut the Suifenhe checkpoint on April 7 to contain the cross-border spread of the coronavirus.

Graphic and content editor Darren Long.
Cover and map by Adolfo Arranz

Sources: National Health Commission of PRC; Local Health Commission

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