The woman, Jie Li, is a 37-year-old Chinese Biogen employee who has been living and working in Massachusetts. The L.A. Times reports that she got ill with symptoms of coronavirus, but a local hospital did not test her, so she decided to go to China to get the test. She then flew from Massachusetts to Los Angeles and then on to Beijing, taking medications to reduce her fever before boarding and then lying to flight attendants so she could complete her trip.
Li, who is now hospitalized in China with the virus along with her husband, is being investigated for “impeding prevention of infectious diseases.” People in China face up to three years in jail with forced labor or up to seven years in prison, according to Chinese law, for such an offense. Experts say that she is likely to only face the lesser charge because she was not diagnosed until she entered the country.
All passengers who arrive in Beijing from abroad are now required to undergo a quarantine in government centers for 14 days.
Although she works as an associate director of biostatistics for Biogen, Li did not attend a big conference that was held by the firm in Boston in the end of February and has now been connected to nearly 100 coronavirus cases. However, she did have contact with people who attended the conference.
The company says she’s no longer an employee, with a Biogen statement saying that she "made the personal decision to travel to China without informing the company and ignoring the guidance of health experts. She is no longer an employee of Biogen. We are deeply dismayed by the situation as reported by the media in China."
Biogen recently announced it would be donating $10 million to help fight the pandemic, with the money geared toward expanding testing options, training health workers at the front line, easing the stress on medical systems and improving people’s access to food. They’ve also provided medical equipment and supplies to major hospitals in Massachusetts.
Those who lived near Li in Belmont, Massachusetts, reported seeing someone going door to door trying to track her down earlier in the week, and the Belmont Health Department placed a notice on her door. After the health department learned she had traveled, they asked MassPort to notify anyone who might have come into contact with her about the potential exposure.
China takes this type of irresponsible behavior very seriously, with six crimes identified in a statement released Monday connected to national quarantine and health measures. These include refusing to follow quarantine measures like medical inspection and temperature monitoring, hiding symptoms, refusing to undergo customs health checks, and reporting false information on health-related declaration forms.
These crimes are considered serious threats to the health and safety of the public, and more than two dozen people in China are already being either investigated or punished for these acts.
For example, a man who lied about where he’d been in the country before testing positive for the virus prompted the quarantine of 900 other people. He was sentenced to a year in prison. Another man was sentenced to eight months in jail after testing positive after lying to medical workers about having been in Wuhan; eight medical workers were quarantined as a result and at least one of his close contacts was infected.
This disease has shown that it’s not something to be taken lightly, and even spreading it to just one other person can set a chain in motion that can leave countless people dead in its wake. It is time for people to start taking this pandemic seriously and be held accountable if they fail to do so.
Sources for this article include: