BEIJING — The Chinese government has sent a team of investigators to Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, to determine how a woman infected with the virus had been released from a prison in the city and fled to Beijing despite a mandatory travel lockdown.
The team, headed by Vice Minister of Justice Liu Zhiqiang and consisting of members of the military, police, and prosecutors, will travel to Wuhan to investigate how the woman had been allowed to return to the Chinese capital while displaying fever symptoms.
Ying Yong, the newly appointed Communist Party chief for Hubei province, also called for a thorough investigation into the case even if higher-level government officials are involved. “It should be investigated thoroughly to see if there are any other legal and disciplinary issues involved. Whoever is involved would not be exempt from investigations,” the party newspaper Hubei Daily quoted Ying as saying.
The unusual case of the woman’s escape came into public attention Wednesday, after the New World Villa compound in Beijing’s central Dongcheng district issued a notice saying that one of its tenants, a woman who had arrived from Wuhan, had been confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus.
The patient, referred to by her family name Huang, had started to show symptoms including fever and sore throat since Feb. 18 while still in Wuhan, according to Chinese media reports.
Later it was reported that Huang had been picked up by her family by car upon her release from Wuhan Women’s Prison. She arrived at her apartment at 2 a.m. on Feb. 22 after passing a temperature check at the compound entrance and was put under centralized quarantine later in the evening. Running a fever, Huang was taken by ambulance to Puren Hospital in Dongcheng district. It was confirmed she had the coronavirus on Feb. 24.
Three family members who came into close contact with Huang have been sent to a centralized quarantine facility for two weeks of medical observation. Huang’s apartment building has been disinfected and the whole compound is under quarantine, Beijing’s municipal health commission said Wednesday. Huang is said to be a mild case and in a stable condition.
The case underlines a gray zone in China’s epidemic management. It remains unclear why the patient had not been isolated for virus screening in Wuhan and how she had been allowed to leave the city, where a travel lockdown has remained in place since it was announced Jan. 23.
Local authorities in Hubei say that several former inmates had been sent back to their home provinces this month after finishing their term in prison, with police chaperone to get through checkpoints. However, Wuhan Women’s Prison — where Huang was alleged to be released from — said on Wednesday that it hadn’t released any inmates recently due to the latest wave of confirmed infections in jail.
As of Feb. 23, Wuhan Women’s Prison had reported 279 confirmed cases among its inmates, accounting for 85 percent of prison infections across the wider Hubei province.