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What China did to fight the flu pandemic

world Updated: Aug 14, 2009 01:20 IST
Reshma Patil
Reshma Patil
Hindustan Times
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If you thought India with 20 deaths of swine flu is panicking, consider how China with over 2,400 cases and no deaths is attacking the virus.

Unlike any affected nation, and more aggressively than the administrations in Pune and Mumbai, China controversially quarantined a few thousand suspected swine flu cases -- including the mayor of New Orleans, USA, and his wife, in June.

Since May, medical crew wearing containment suits and brandishing thermometers have picked up foreign and Chinese nationals from airplanes and airports, or bundled them into isolation after midnight knocks at homes and hotels.

Healthy passengers seated near infected patients were also dispatched to wards or hotels patrolled by masked guards, with no access to consular visitors. Meal trays were left outside patients’ doors.

Chinese health officials claimed that the mass quarantine would slowdown the spread of the virus until the right vaccine was ready.

The strategy sparked diplomatic rows but Chinese officials say they managed to avoid fatalities in a nation of 1.3 billion people because of such measures.

“We still can’t explain why the same virus can cause death rates to vary so greatly across countries,” Vivian Tan, spokesperson of the World Health Organisation in Beijing, told the Hindustan Times. But the only Chinese swine flu patient who died was killed by accidental electrocution in a hospital toilet last month during quarantine.

The majority of China’s confirmed swine flu cases have recovered.

The first critical case was announced only as recently as Thursday when a boy (170 slipped into coma in southern Guangzhou.

“A few schools were closed in some cities, but there was no cause for an across-the-board school closure as the school term was coming to an end,” said Tan, who called China’s preparedness “impressive”.

The focus is now turning to the efficacy of China’s indigenous flu vaccine.

On Wednesday, health minister Chen Zhu publicly got his second inoculation of an indigenous swine flu vaccine. The ministry said initial tests of flu vaccines developed by 10 pharmaceutical companies had proven safe, and a national vaccination plan will be ready next month.

“From the start, there was high-level commitment to fighting H1N1 with both the premier and the president stressing that this was top priority and not just a health problem,” Tan said.