By Shivani Singh and Winni Zhou
BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The number of new coronavirus cases imported into mainland China from overseas surpassed the number of locally transmitted new infections for the first time on Friday, according to data released by the National Health Commission.
Mainland China had 11 new confirmed cases on Friday, up from eight cases a day earlier, but only four of those – all in the virus epicenter of Hubei province – were locally transmitted, according to the data released on Saturday.
The other seven – including four in the financial hub of Shanghai, one in the capital Beijing and two in the northwestern province of Gansu – were all detected in travelers coming into China from overseas, specifically Italy, the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Later on Saturday, Shanghai’s city government confirmed a further two imported cases in travelers from France and Spain.
The numbers underscore how China, where the outbreak began in December, appears to now face a greater threat of new infections from outside its borders as it continues to slow the spread of the virus domestically.
A total of 95 cases have entered mainland China from overseas by the end of Friday, the commission said.
Beijing’s city government said that patients with imported coronavirus will have to cover all treatment fees if they are not enrolled for basic health insurance.
Hubei has now seen new infections fall for nine straight days. All four new cases on Friday were in the provincial capital Wuhan.
The death toll in mainland China from the coronavirus had reached 3,189 by the end of Friday, up by 13 from the previous day. All the latest deaths were in Hubei and 10 were in Wuhan.
The virus has infected 80,824 people in mainland China, the commission said. Globally, more than 138,000 have been infected and over 5,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
As cases rise overseas, the steel hub of Tangshan in northern China’s Hebei province warned people entering the city against trying to conceal their travel history.
People who do so will have to bear all treatment costs if they are later found to have contracted coronavirus, the Tangshan city government said.
Meanwhile, China’s finance ministry said at a briefing on Saturday that the virus had affected first-quarter fiscal revenues but the Chinese economy remained resilient.. No details were given.
China’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has started a public consultation on whether college entrance exams, generally held in June, should be postponed or not. A decision has not been made, China’s state TV CCTV reported Wang Dengfeng, a senior official with the MOE as saying.
Wang added that no decision on when schools will resume has been made. He expects senior students at middle and high schools to restart first, while college semesters will begin later.
Despite the uptick in imported cases in Shanghai, the city is gearing up to re-open all its public parks by March 20, Fang Yan, an official from Shanghai’s Landscaping and City Appearance Administrative Bureau, told a press conference on Saturday.
A total of 195 city parks have reopened so far after “the war against coronavirus situation showed positive changes”, Fang said. Thousands of public venues had earlier been shut across China in a bid to halt the virus spread.
The city’s flagship Shanghai Museum and well-known landmark the Oriental Pearl Tower have both reopened, said culture and tourism official Zhang Qi.
But Shanghai is following Beijing in suspending public funerals, instead offering grave-cleaning and flower services at cemeteries as the annual Qingming tomb-sweeping festival on April 4 approaches.
Of the new Shanghai cases imported from Italy, three were Chinese people who worked in Italy and flew to Shanghai via Moscow, according to the city’s municipal health commission, while the fourth was an Italian who flew in via Paris.
Italy is the worst affected country in Europe, reporting a total 17,660 cases by Friday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella over the phone to offer his “sincere condolences” to the Italian people over the crisis, CCTV reported on Saturday.
Xi also held phone calls with the presidents of two other severely hit countries, Iran and South Korea, again expressing condolences, the state broadcaster said.
(Reporting by Tom Daly, Muyu Xu and Shivani Singh in Beijing and Winni Zhou in Shanghai; editing by Michael Perry, Richard Pullin, Kirsten Donovan)