Sunday, July 12, 2009

When in Doubt, Quarantine Away

I've largely ignored the H1N1 news so far on this blog. I just don't find it to be that interesting of a story. Chinese people around me continue to talk about it though.

"You and Qian are headed to America soon," they'll say in a worried tone. "What about H1N1 and all the people who've had it there?"

My response, "What about it?"

Nearly all Chinese people I've heard talk about H1N1 are scared. If I didn't read the news and just based my perspective on the people around me, I'd certainly think that humanity is on the brink of a worldwide flu pandemic.

Reading the following editorial from The Los Angeles Times from someone who experienced a quarantine in China helps explain why Chinese people are on edge:

Image from Xinhua News

When I arrived in China late last month, the hazmat-suited public officials who met my plane had the same question for each passenger: "Have you had contact with pigs?" The officials took our temperatures, and then we were free to pass through customs and go on our way.

As a physician who had come to Shanghai to lecture at a Chinese medical school, I found it interesting to witness firsthand China's public health response to the H1N1 virus. The process seemed like overkill, and it had debatable public health benefits, but it didn't inconvenience me terribly. Or so I thought at the time.

The next evening, I returned from dinner to find two white-coated public health workers waiting for me in the lobby of my hotel. Apparently, a passenger three rows in front and five seats across from me on the flight had tested positive for H1N1. I was given 30 minutes to pack my belongings. When I returned with my bags, I noticed that the hotel staff stood in the corner of the suddenly cleared lobby wearing surgical masks. "I have no symptoms whatsoever," I tried to explain, but the siren of the ambulance that sped to the front of the hotel drowned out my protestations. The back door opened to reveal three fellow American passengers from my flight. I climbed in, and we drove two hours in darkness.

At 3 a.m., we arrived at a rural motel complex. Each of us was assigned to a single room and handed a letter. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you have had a good trip to China," it read without a hint of irony. "In order to combat H1N1 you will stay at the Fengxian Medical Observation and execution institution for these special days. Stay at your observation room, no come out of your room. This temporary separation is for your family and friends' happiness and health. You will find quality services here. Have a nice time at this special moment."

Read On
Simply, the people who are suspected of possibly having H1N1 become, for all intents and purposes, swine on the back of a truck. Seeing this kind of action, it's easy to see why Chinese people are freaked out.

As this doctor acknowledges later in the article, influenza pandemics are something to be worried about. But he does a nice job breaking down why China's interpretation of swift and precise action are both antiquated and off-the-mark.

It is important for H1N1 not to take off in China. The sanitary conditions here leave a lot to be desired.

I remember being dumbfounded when, getting my first medical check examination for my work visa in China, there was no soap in the hospital bathroom for the patrons to wash their hands. So you can imagine the state of the rest of society if hospitals can't even muster up the energy to provide soap dispensers.

Saying that, locking up foreigners who were on the same plane as someone who tested positive for H1N1 doesn't seem to be a proportionate response to this situation.


Anonymous said...

If there is one word I would use to describe China it would contradiction. This reaction to H1N1 is a perfect example.

You bring up a great point about the soap. They are gonna go to such great extremes to contain this virus yet there are so many things that go on in daily life over there that just seem to promote the proliferation of germs and viruses. Public restrooms were filthy and soap and paper towels were a luxury. It was not uncommon to see children urinating in the streets and I've heard from expats that say its not unusual to see this happening even indoors. I went to Behai and was informed of 1 public toilet that was being shared by several bars, this thing looked like the loo from Trainspotting.

I am hoping to go over to China and teach someday but if there is one thing that makes me apprehensive, its how unsanitary the place is. Here in Vegas you don't have to touch anything to use the restroom and wash your hands. In China I felt an urge to go back to the hotel and take a shower whenever I took a wizz in a public restroom. And oh man, how funny are all those 4 and 5 star ratings for the restrooms.

Bill Rich said...

Just remember, appearance is all that count in China. Chinese government wants to appear to be doing something, and what is most visible to the Chinese : quarantine, and having people wearing masks and hazmat suites. Putting soap in the bathrooms won't be as effective, and neither is improving sanitary practices in restaurants, homes and hospitals. It is just too bad the schools are out, or almost out, or the schools will be closed too.

And telling people to change their habits is a non starter. No one will listen anyway, and it will just be seen as another propaganda program. Well, unless it will improve the sales of certain products that is sold by friends or families.

Anonymous said...

China is still a developing county. Toilet paper, soap and hot water in every restroom require a high standard living in that county. It will take long time for China to acheive that goal. To be safe you need to bring your own toilet paper everywhere you go when you are in China. I just asked a Chinese lady who arrived from Nanjing a week ago in Kansas City her fisrt impressions of America. She said fresh air and no more carrying toilet paper .
Again the appearance is very important for China too. Being the first country running the commercial use levitation train is more impressive than stock every bathroom with soap and paper!! It's all about face in my coulture.

Kansas City

pug ster said...

H1N1 is very contagious, I can tell you that. About 3 weeks ago, I caught it, and then my daughter got it 2 weeks ago and this past week my son got it. I think China is doing the right thing and they are not overreacting.