China isolates 50 Mexicans amid flu fear

BEIJING: Forty-nine Mexican nationals were being held in isolation in different parts of China on Sunday even though they showed no symptoms of swine flu, Mexican diplomats in Beijing said.

The group included 10 people at a hotel near Beijing’s airport, about 30 at a Shanghai hotel and six at a hotel in the southern city of Guangzhou, an official at the embassy told AFP.

In the capital, Mexican ambassador Jorge Guajardo was able, after a standoff with a Chinese official, to enter the Beijing Guomen Hotel, where the 10 were being kept, but he was not allowed to meet them.

“We are objecting to the fact that they are holding Mexicans in isolation for the fear that they might have the flu virus, even though they have no signs of having the flu virus,” Guajardo told reporters.

Several of the people held in isolation in China had no connection with a flight from Mexico to Shanghai on which a Mexican man who was later confirmed to be infected with the deadly virus had travelled, the ambassador said.

“There are people here who arrived on a plane from Newark on Continental Airlines. There are others who arrived from Los Angeles that are being quarantined,” he said.

At least 19 people have died from the multi-strain flu in Mexico, and human cases have been confirmed in Asia, Europe and the Americas. The World Health Organisation has reported at least 658 cases in 16 countries.

“We have a consular right... to look after our citizens here, and that’s the reason I’m at this hotel, to make sure the Mexicans they have here are being treated well. We have reports that that’s not necessarily the case in Beijing,” Guajardo said.

Unlike Mexicans quarantined in Shanghai and Guangzhou, the group of 10 in Beijing had been put up in a hotel in “a pretty deteriorated” state, with some of the bathrooms not working, he said.

Authorities in Hong Kong have quarantined 300 guests and staff in a city centre hotel over swine flu fears, as the Mexican man who travelled into China via Shanghai had briefly been a guest there.

Guajardo said a Mexican diplomat living in Guangzhou had been taken aside for special flu testing upon his return from Cambodia — which has no confirmed cases of swine flu — just because he was Mexican. The Chinese ambassador to Mexico had been summoned late Saturday to explain his country’s position to Mexican officials, he added.

A spokesman for the health department in Guangdong province, of which Guangzhou is the capital, said a dozen foreigners who had travelled on the Mexico-Shanghai flight had been put in protective isolation for seven days.

But the spokesman, Feng Shaoming, said he did not have any details about their nationalities. An official at the Mexican embassy here said the people put in isolation in China were mostly tourists, and that some were headed for China, while others were in transit for third countries.

The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately

react to the Mexican criticism. Health departments in

Beijing and Shanghai were not immediately available for comment.