China Forces Dozens of Mexican Travelers Into Quarantine as Outbreak Declines in Mexico
The A/H1N1 flu outbreak is leading to a potential diplomatic row between China and Mexico, as Chinese health authorities round up and quarantine scores of Mexicans — only one of whom is thus far reported to be sick — as they fly in on business and holiday trips.
Mexico’s foreign minister said Mexican citizens with no signs of infection had been isolated in “unacceptable conditions” in China. Patricia Espinosa told a news conference Saturday that such measures were “discriminatory and ungrounded” and that the government is advising Mexicans to stay away from China.
She also criticized four Latin American countries — Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Cuba — for suspending flights coming from Mexico against the recommendation of the World Health Organization. >>>
The Mexican government has said it believes the country’s H1N1 flu epidemic has “passed its peak”, even as reports emerged that the virus has spread deeper into the United States, Europe and Latin America.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said more cases were confirmed in Europe and North America, with at least 898 people suspected to have fallen ill from the disease worldwide.
Costa Rica, Italy, Colombia and Ireland have become the latest countries to confirm cases of the virus, bringing the total number of countries affected to 19, although the majority of cases remain in Mexico and the US.
Despite signs that the virus may not be as dangerous as initially feared, health experts say the flu still poses a very real threat, especially in the southern hemisphere where the annual flu season is just beginning.
Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, told reporters in Switzerland it was still too early into the outbreak to deliver any conclusions on the threat posed by the new flu strain.
“I think we would want to wait a while before making a definitive decision,” he said.
On Sunday, Felipe Calderon, the Mexican president, said his country was “in a position to overcome” the epidemic.
“We have been able to hold or at least reduce the rate of propagation of the virus to contain the epidemic,” he said.
“We won’t cry victory, but we can look at resuming certain activities.”
Mexican officials are expected to decide on Monday whether to extend a five-day nationwide shutdown or allow schools and businesses to reopen later this week.
Late Sunday Jose Angel Cordova, Mexico’s health minister, said the official number of confirmed dead in his country from the virus – which apparently combines swine, bird and human forms of influenza – had been updated to 22, following new lab results.
“The evolution of the epidemic is in its declining phase,” he said, two months after Mexican authorities first began reporting cases of an influenza-like illness.
“The national peak was between April 23-28.”
Cordova said the number of confirmed cases was 590, including the 22 dead.
Another 101 deaths are being treated as suspected as having been caused by the virus.
Containment measures, including the public’s use of face masks and regular hand-washing, had been effective in limiting the flu’s spread, Cordova said.
But he cautioned that the government, medical authorities and citizens should remain vigilant in the epicentre of the global outbreak. >>>
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu rejected the criticism, saying the isolation steps were correct procedure, not bigotry.
”The measures concerned are not directed at Mexican citizens and there is no discrimination,” Mr Ma said in a statement issued on the ministry website.
”This was purely a medical quarantine issue,” Mr Ma said, adding that Mexico should ”give full understanding to the measures adopted by China and handle this matter objectively and calmly”.
Mexico announced on Sunday that its swine flu epidemic had passed the worst and experts said the virus might be no more severe than normal flu.
The row over confinement has strained what had been a warming relationship between China and Mexico.
Mexico’s ambassador to Beijing, Jorge Guajardo, went to a hotel in the capital on Sunday where more than 10 Mexicans have been held, but was not allowed to see them, an embassy official said that day.
Mexicans were being held in hotels and other sites across several parts of China, including Hong Kong, said the embassy official. >>>
In Sunday’s television interview, Calderon took a veiled jab at China, saying Mexico, unlike some other countries in the past, did not try to hide its outbreak.
China was criticised for initially denying the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or Sars, a virus which killed almost 800 people around the world, although with the majority of cases in Hong Kong and China.
The row has strained what has been a warming relationship between the two countries, with Mexico China’s second largest trade partner in Latin America behind Brazil, and its biggest export market there, according to Chinese statistics. >>>
The World Health Organization says countries must not lower their guard in the response to the swine flu outbreak.
Almost 900 cases had been confirmed across five continents, the WHO said, and authorities had to remain vigilant.
Viruses increased and decreased in activity, it said, and it was too early to tell whether the outbreak had peaked where it emerged in Mexico. >>>