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Questions out of quarantine

China’s biggest trade fair swarming with thousands of visitors — in the southern Guangdong province where the SARS epidemic began six years ago — had a health screening system that rivalled the temporary set-up at Indian airports to prevent swine flu. Reshma Patil reports.

world Updated: May 08, 2009 01:55 IST
Reshma Patil

China’s biggest trade fair swarming with thousands of visitors — in the southern Guangdong province where the SARS epidemic began six years ago — had a health screening system that rivalled the temporary set-up at Indian airports to prevent swine flu.

When Beijing resident Serwat Perwaiz attended the Canton fair this week, a nurse checked the temperature on her neck with a laser gadget. She had to fill a medical form. Television screens flashed advise urging visitors to dress warmly though it is summer, not to kiss and shake hands. Notices in bathrooms explained how to wash hands. “Most people we met didn’t shake hands,’’ Perwaiz told HT.

And on Thursday, Beijing ended the controversial quarantine of an entire flight crew and passengers, enforced after a Mexican national, who flew from Mexico to Shanghai and Hong Kong, became Asia’s first confirmed case of the flu. In Hong Kong, almost 300 guests and staff of the hotel where the Mexican stayed were quarantined.

Media reports revealed that even the air-conditioning was turned off at a Beijing hotel to prevent the virus from spreading, though none of the hotel’s quarantined guests had symptoms of the new flu.

Did China enforce precautions too severely? The World Health Organisation does not think so. “Looking beyond the much-debated quarantine issue, it’s important to acknowledge that China is more prepared than ever to respond to the current situation,’’ said Vivian Tan, the WHO China communications officer.

The quarantine sparked a row between amiable trade partners, with Mexico claiming that China’s quarantine of Mexicans was discriminatory. Beijing denied the charge.

“This is a new virus that is, by definition, poorly understood,’’ Tan pointed out. “We don’t yet have a complete picture of its transmission patterns. This partly explains why different countries are taking different actions to try to prevent and control it.”