Beijing: As China grows more optimistic about containing the spread of coronavirus within the country, it is confronting a potential threat to its recovery: the rest of the world.

Epidemic-control efforts have turned to foreigners in China in recent days as confirmed cases within the country have slowed. Police officers and local government workers have made house calls specifically to check whether expatriates recently traveled to another country where they could have contracted the virus.

The shift in focus comes as China attempts to recast the coronavirus as a global issue and touts its own handling of the epidemic. The government’s draconian but seemingly effective lockdowns of cities have helped reduce person-to-person contact and slow the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the new coronavirus a pandemic. Confirmed cases are rising in other parts of Asia, the U.S. and Europe, and more than 4,500 people have died globally, with the majority of them in China. All of Italy was placed under quarantine on Tuesday; the virus’s death toll there rose above 800 on Wednesday, and the number of infected patients topped 12,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Within China, imported cases outnumbered domestic cases outside of Hubei province for six consecutive days as of Wednesday, the National Health Commission said. In one week, total imported cases rose from 20 to 85 on Wednesday. Beijing authorities said Wednesday that one imported case had come from the U.S.

“The number of these imported cases is likely to increase," said Hitoshi Oshitani, a professor of virology at Japan’s Tohoku University School of Medicine. “That may trigger another large outbreak in China."

The emphasis on limiting international exposures has bolstered the perception that China has efficiently and effectively addressed the outbreak—a narrative the government has promoted, despite initially playing down the virus’s spread for weeks before taking decisive action.

Beijing criticized some countries, notably the U.S., for raising travel alerts against China and for chartering flights to evacuate their citizens from China. As the virus has spread more quickly outside China than inside, the Chinese government itself has evacuated its overseas citizens, including 200 Chinese nationals from Iran, where 8,000 people have been infected.

On Monday, Beijing authorities asked foreigners in particular to minimize unnecessary travel and to wear masks outside, saying the pressure has mounted to control imported cases of infection as the epidemic worsens globally. The week before, they had said anyone arriving from South Korea, Italy, Iran or Japan—countries battling recent surges in infections—would have to quarantine for 14 days.

And on Wednesday, Beijing officials ordered anyone entering China—even from countries with nonserious virus conditions—to confine themselves at home for 14 days, effective immediately. Short-term travelers entering China will be required to stay in designated hotels and to submit to nucleic acid testing, and are forbidden from leaving the hotel until test results are obtained.

On the ground, foreigners have sometimes been singled out. In a Beijing neighborhood near the Forbidden City, local government workers delivered a message to two Americans living in adjacent bungalows last week, translated into English and shown to them on a cellphone: “Don’t have too much contact with foreign friends to avoid spreading the disease." The workers didn’t contact their Chinese neighbors.

In Shanghai, Jared T. Nelson, who runs a compliance startup, said he has received visits from local police at home and his office inquiring about any recent travel abroad.

On Saturday, two policemen knocked on Mr. Nelson’s apartment door to ask when he returned to the city. When he told them about his January trip to Hangzhou, a coastal city 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, they said it didn’t count. They asked about trips outside of China, and explained that they were checking foreigners in the area who might need to undergo quarantine. They left after inspecting the passport of Mr. Nelson, who hasn’t been abroad since 2018.

“There’s a perception that everything is under control here, but out of control abroad," the 36-year-old Wyoming native said. “All of us who are obviously foreign—we’re potentially carriers." Mr. Nelson said his visitors skipped over his Chinese neighbors.

In the southern city of Shenzhen, security guards on Monday allowed people who looked Chinese to enter a Huawei Technologies Co. repair shop, but stopped Vladimir Yordanov, saying foreigners couldn’t enter without a supervisor’s permission. When the supervisor arrived 30 minutes later, Mr. Yordanov said he hadn’t left China in two months and was allowed inside.

A Bulgarian employee of Huawei, Mr. Yordanov said it then took two minutes to find out the shop didn’t have the laptop charger he needed. “I was upset not at the guards, but the fact they didn’t have it," he said.

Beijing has also pushed back against the notion that the coronavirus originated in China. Scientists have said the virus likely began in wildlife, perhaps bats, before spreading to humans, possibly through a food market in Wuhan, China. Yet last month, Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese epidemiologist, said the virus might have come from another country, given the widespread outbreaks. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian, reiterating those remarks, has criticized the characterization of the coronavirus as a “China virus."

In late January, government officials implemented strict controls on people’s movements, including the lockdown of nearly 60 million people within Hubei province.

As new infections have fallen, some of those measures are winding down. In Hubei, several cities have lifted bans on public transportation within the area, encouraging people to go back to work. On Tuesday, President Xi Jinpingmade his first trip to Wuhan, the capital of Hubei and the center of China’s coronavirus epidemic, since the virus started spreading.

“The phase that China’s at now obviously is reopening stuff," said Dale Fisher, chair of the World Health Organization’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. “China’s well aware that numbers are coming down, but at the end of the day they are still vulnerable and they need to be ready."

—Bingyan Wang contributed to this article.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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