Thursday, June 25, 2009

China defends H1N1 quarantine policy

China has been accused by the United States of implementing draconian measures to thwart the spread of the A/H1N1 virus, otherwise known as swine flu. But the advised and sometimes enforced quarantines of people arriving in China is seen by the country's authorities as necessary to prevent a widespread health problem.




On arrival in China passengers are not allowed to leave the plane until everyone has had their temperatures checked. Shortly after touchdown health workers wearing face masks and gloves test everyone on board for signs of fever with hand held electronic thermometers. Even before landing everybody is required to fill in forms declaring whether or not they have experienced symptoms commonly associated with the A/H1N1 virus.


At Beijing's International Airport each passenger is screened, passing through three check points where temperatures are once again monitored and each passenger is given a leaflet advising of precautionary self-imposed quarantine.




Although not everyone arriving in the country is put into isolation, each new arrival is encouraged to "self monitor" their health status for seven days and "avoid going to populous public areas or taking public transportation". Every passenger is required to give details of where they are residing and a telephone number where they can be reached.


A health official may call giving the new arrival information leaflets as well as a thermometer and tablets in which to dissolve in water to disinfect surfaces.

For many foreigners the procedures are a little daunting, and perhaps even worrisome, but it considered by Chinese authorities as absolutely necessary to protect a dense and massive population. The country still has memory of the SARS virus which killed hundreds in China around a decade ago.


With a global pandemic now declared by the World Health Organization, and with more than 500 declared cases of H1N1 infection in China, the authorities are taking no chances.




Such measures have however come in for criticism by some western governments after the enforced quarantine of some arrivals. The US State Department has said that the seven day quarantines made travel to the country "unpredictable" and advised its citizens to be cautious about making plans to travel into China.


"Although the proportion of arriving Americans being quarantined remains low, the random nature of the selection process increases the uncertainty surrounding travel to China," the US State Department said in an alert issued over the weekend.

Several Australians who found themselves under enforced quarantine have meanwhile criticized their own government for not representing their concerns.

While there has been some measure of criticism, there are some signs even in the West, that the precautions were necessary given the widespread health risk. In Britain, where more than 1,500 cases of the virus have so far been detected, one doctor of more than 30 years experience told tvnewswatch that the procedures "left Britain standing".


A week after arriving in China, tvnewswatch has learned that anyone not following advice and subsequently affecting others if they develop symptoms may be subject to a fine of between 50,000 and 200,000 RMB. It is thus surely good advice to keep monitoring temperatures and report any illness immediately.

tvnewswatch reporting from Beijing, China

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