By Gillian Wong
The Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — By quarantining them as a safeguard against swine flu, Beijing denied that it had discriminated against Mexicans on May 4; meanwhile, Mexico said it was sending a plane to China to bring back its citizens.
Mexico is upset because Chinese health officials have quarantined more than 70 Mexican travelers even though some are apparently not at risk for the virus.
In one case, a Mexican couple and their three small children were rousted from their hotel room at 4 a.m. and transported to a hospital, said Jorge Guajardo, the Mexican ambassador to Beijing.
None of those in isolation had presented symptoms and most had no contact with infected persons or places, he said.
“In many cases we have gotten reports that they were being quarantined for the sole fact that they had a Mexican passport, whether or not they came from Mexico, whether or not they had been in Mexico, whether or not they had been in contact with someone else from Mexico,” Guajardo said.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon expressed dismay that “some countries or places are taking discriminatory measures because of ignorance and misinformation.” A Mexican official said the government would charter an Aeromexico airliner to take home any Mexicans who wanted to leave China.
The Mexican Embassy in Beijing sent a circular out to all its citizens reminding them of their right to be put in touch with the nearest Mexican Embassy or consulate in any country where authorities try to put them in quarantine.
Because China has applied “measures of unjustified isolation” in the wake of the swine flu epidemic, the embassy said, trips there should be canceled or postponed.
Another embassy statement sent to Mexican citizens said a government-chartered plane will stop in several cities in China to pick up Mexicans who want to return home, including those who arrived recently but were “confined by Chinese authorities for what they said were health reasons.”
China too sent a chartered flight late May 4 to Mexico City to pick up 200 stranded Chinese nationals, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The China Southern Airlines flight is expected to return on Wednesday morning, the report said.
China has already canceled the only direct flights between China and Mexico, a twice-weekly service by Aeromexico.
China’s Foreign Ministry said Mexicans were not being singled out and added it hoped Mexico would “address the issue in an objective and calm manner.”
“The relevant measures are not targeted at Mexican citizens, and are not discriminatory. This is purely a question of health inspection and quarantine,” ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement, adding that China was willing to help Mexico fight the spread.
Critics say China’s authoritarian government doesn’t stand on niceties when shifting into crisis mode, locking down much of the country during last summer’s Beijing Olympics and sealing off Tibetan areas following anti-government protests last year. Its responses can often be extreme, shifting from neglectful to over-the-top. During the 2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, officials went from denying it had a problem to shutting down much of the country and quarantining scores of people virtually overnight.
The World Health Organization said that while it advises countries to be focused on trying to control any outbreak or spread of the virus, member states draw up their own policies for specific measures such as quarantines.
“It’s really up to each country and should be in accordance with their own regulations and legislation on public health and protection of the population,” Hans Troeddson, the WHO’s representative in China, said in an interview.
Chinese authorities also tracked down and quarantined other passengers who had been on the same flight as a Mexican traveler later diagnosed in Hong Kong with swine flu; none showed symptoms of the virus, the Health Ministry said.
As part of its swine-flu prevention, Beijing had already banned imports of pork from Mexico, some U.S. states, and Alberta in Canada. ♦
Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo, in Mexico City, and Audra Ang, in Beijing, contributed to this report.