A 37-year-old Massachusetts woman who flew from Los Angeles to Beijing last week before testing positive for coronavirus could reportedly face up to seven years in prison in China for allegedly hiding her symptoms.
The woman, whose last name is Li, told Air China flight attendants she didn’t feel well but lied about taking fever-reducing medicine, Beijing’s disease control center and an Air China spokesperson alleged Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Li is being investigated for allegedly “impeding prevention of infectious diseases,” and could potentially face detention and possible forced labor or three to seven years in prison, the Times reported, citing Chinese authorities.
“Those who try to test their luck and evade customs and quarantine not only will bear the whole society’s shaming and condemnation but will also face the scourge of imprisonment,” Wang Jun, director-general of customs policies and regulations, said in a news conference.
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The woman is suspected of having attended a biotech conference in Boston in late February, which has been linked to more than 100 cases in Massachusetts, before flying to Los Angeles. The conference has also been linked to cases in other states and countries.
Biogen, the company that held the conference, told the FiercePharma news outlet it believes “Ms. Li is a U.S.-based Biogen employee who made a personal decision to travel to China.”
Li, a Chinese citizen and permanent resident of Massachusetts, was denied a coronavirus test in the state before she flew to Los Angeles and Beijing, Chinese health officials said, according to FiercePharma.
Chinese officials Tuesday said Li’s husband had also tested positive, but it’s unclear if he could face charges.
China has stepped up restrictions on travelers entering the country since the virus has slowed there but is ramping up in other counties, including the United States.
Anyone entering Beijing must go into two weeks of quarantine at a government center.
“We need to be highly alert toward imported infection cases,” Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese government advisor, said at a news conference this week, according to The Times. “For this first wave of imported cases from highly affected countries, we should not just look at their symptoms; we should test them.”
Li is among more than two dozen who have been investigated or prosecuted for similar crimes.
A man in Qinghai Province was sentenced to a year in prison when he falsely claimed he had been at home for 40 days before getting on a train. He later tested positive for the virus and 900 people had to be quarantined as a result.
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Another man from Henan Province who lied about traveling to Wuhan — the epicenter of the outbreak — when he went to a health center with symptoms, was sentenced to eight months, according to The Times.