ALMATY - The governor of a Kazakh province bordering China said on Thursday he would seek the deportation of dozens of Chinese workers to defuse the local population's fears of coronavirus, news website Dalanews.kz reported.
The Central Asian nation closed its border with China after the outbreak but has so far made no moves against Chinese who had arrived there earlier.
Danial Akhmetov, governor of East Kazakhstan province, made the promise about deportations during a meeting with residents of the Zaisan region adjacent to China, according to Dalanews.
An angry crowd gathered there in Thursday's early hours, alarmed by the sight of extra beds being delivered to a hospital amid rumours that the authorities planned to take in coronavirus patients from across the border.
Akhmetov sought to calm the locals by telling them there were no such plans and the preparations were part of a nation-wide plan to ensure there were facilities available everywhere to quarantine those with suspected infection.
But the crowd demanded that the authorities deport 42 Chinese workers involved in the construction of an international highway in the district, even though they had arrived in Kazakhstan months earlier.
"Give me three days, this is a matter of international affairs," a harried Akhmetov could be heard telling a hundreds-strong crowd in a video published by Dalanews. "All 42 (Chinese) people will return home," Dalanews quoted him as saying.
A Kazakh court will have to approve deportations.
China is one of oil-rich Kazakhstan's biggest investors and trading partners. But Beijing's "deradicalization campaign" in Xinjiang province, which saw many ethnic Kazakhs put into camps, and virus fears have stoked anti-Chinese feeling in Kazakhstan.