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INFLUENZA A (H1N1)

Mexico protests China’s isolation of citizens as outbreak stabilises

4 min

Mexico's swine flu outbreak appeared to be stabilising on Saturday, but officials warned the unpredictable virus still threatened to become a global pandemic. The World Health Organisation says 17 countries have so far reported 787 infections.

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AFP  - Mexican diplomats complained bitterly to China on Sunday saying about 70 of their countrymen had been placed under quarantine despite showing no signs of swine flu.

As Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa called the action "unjustified" and warned Mexicans against visiting China, Ambassador Jorge Guajardo was refused access to 10 people held at Beijing Guomen Hotel.

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

Guajardo engaged in a brief stand-off with a Chinese official at the hotel, who initially blocked access, but later let in the ambassador without allowing him to see the group.

The ambassador said several of those held in China had no connection with the Shanghai-Hong Kong flight which carried an infected Mexican man -- Asia's first confirmed swine flu case.

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

At a press conference in Shanghai, a Chinese official defended the handling of quarantine measures. China was hard hit by the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and has a continuing problem with bird flu.

"All the measures are taken in accordance with laws and regulations," said Chen Qiwei, a spokesman for the city's government.

A Mexican embassy official told AFP late Sunday there were now nearly 70 Mexicans quarantined across China, including those at the Beijing Guomen Hotel, with others held in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

"We have a consular right... to look after our citizens here," Guajardo said.

"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."

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.

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 Organization has reported at least 658 cases in 16 countries.

Foreign Minister Espinosa warned Mexicans to avoid travel to China, saying Beijing had "in an unjustified manner isolated Mexicans who had no symptoms" of H1N1 flu.

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.

"We of course object every time somebody is singled out for their nationality, and for no other reason, especially when they

have no symptoms or when they are coming from a country that has absolutely no cases," he said.

"No other country in the world is implementing this type of actions, and it is something that concerns the Mexican government a lot. We have stated our objections."

Guajardo said he had received no information on how long the Mexicans would be kept in isolation.

The Chinese ambassador to Mexico had been summoned late Saturday to explain his country's position to Mexican officials, he added.

China's health ministry on Sunday said it had quarantined all passengers who flew from Mexico City to Shanghai with the swine flu sufferer, who is in quarantine in Hong Kong, but none had shown any symptoms, Xinhua news agency said.

The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately react to the Mexican criticism. Health departments in Beijing and Shanghai were not immediately available for comment.

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