Giant on the move
“You flu bigot!”
Flu bigotry is not a term one usually encounters, but that was the charge hurled at China this week when it quarantined 43 Mexicans, despite none showing symptoms of the H1N1 virus. It was not just an anti-Mexican bias, because China followed up by quarantining 22 Canadian students who were likewise free of symptoms. Many of the Mexicans had at least been on a plane with a person found to have H1N1; there was no apparent direct risk for the Canadians, other than their being from a vast country with only one serious flu case.
But before accusing China of over-reaction, let alone discrimination, it is worth stepping back to consider the quarantines from Beijing’s perspective. Just last week, the World Health Organisation said that a pandemic was imminent. Some have criticised the WHO for panicking, but governments do not have the luxury to second-guess such an authority when it rings the alarm bell.This is all the more true for China. Beijing’s laggardly response to SARS in 2003 let the disease spread to the point that authorities had to effectively shut the country down. Excessive caution this time around has been far preferable. The Chinese medical system is still rickety, rural areas lack basic hygiene and buses and trains are overcrowded – together combining to make China fertile ground for disease.A week-long quarantine is undoubtedly a deprivation of liberty. Yet if that is what it takes to prevent a global pandemic, surely the precaution is proportionate to the threat. Photo: A passenger walks past a temperature detection point for the control of H1N1 flu on arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport April 28, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee