China quarantines 178 foreigners

BEIJING: At least 178 foreign students and teachers were in swine flu quarantine in Beijing on Monday, the British embassy and a US teacher said, with 10 hospitalised after testing positive for the virus.

The school groups were put under seven-day quarantine beginning last week at a Beijing hotel after arriving separately for a study tour, but new arrivals have caused their numbers to swell.

"We can confirm that a group of 107 British school children and teachers from various schools in the UK are being held in quarantine in a hotel in Beijing," the British embassy said in a statement.

Meanwhile, at least 71 American students also were under quarantine at the hotel, said Nicholas Phillips, a teacher from the US state of Oregon.

Phillips said his group numbered 71 but added there were other American students and teachers who had arrived separately. He did not know how many.

Previously, 52 Britons had been reported under quarantine, while the number of Americans had not yet been reported.

The embassy said nine British children had been diagnosed with the virus and taken to hospital while Phillips said one of his American students was in hospital.

The students and teachers, who had arrived on a programme to study Chinese language and culture, are now the largest group of quarantined foreigners yet reported in mainland China over the A(H1N1) virus.

Authorities in Hong Kong had previously quarantined about 300 guests and staff in a hotel in early May.

The Beijing numbers swelled as more students arrived on Sunday, said British teacher Ian Tyrrell, who is under quarantine with the rest of the group at the Yan Xiang Hotel.

"This hotel is full now. There has been a new influx and there are more than 100 UK students here now," Tyrrell told AFP by phone from his room at the hotel.

The US embassy in Beijing has declined to comment on the total number of US nationals quarantined there, citing American privacy laws.

Neither the hotel nor city health officials would comment to AFP.

With the numbers of hospitalised growing, Tyrrell said some school groups at the hotel were now isolating themselves from others to prevent further transmission of the virus, while continuing to wear masks.

But he said the students and teachers were being well cared-for and were in good spirits.

"As new groups arrive it's a bit of a trauma but I think we're all handling it well or doing our best to handle it as best we can," Tyrrell said.

However, many were preparing to leave on Tuesday and Wednesday, when their one-week quarantine period ends, the teachers said.

China has a history of contagious disease outbreaks, including in recent years Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and bird flu.

Chinese authorities have therefore responded aggressively to the swine flu threat, measuring the temperatures of arriving international passengers and subjecting foreigners to quarantine.

There have been 1,537 positive cases of the virus in China, the health ministry said last week, but no deaths have been reported.