Day 12 of Swine Flu not-quite-as-much Frenzy. John & I returned this afternoon from a fantastic get-away from the hub of the furor, with 2 nights in San Miguel de Allende and 2 more in Guanajuato. (Check out the article I wrote for Inside Mexico regarding our escape here!) Expect a run-down on our trip later this week, though I am including a quick preview to the right…
First, I wanted to give a quick update on one of the more shocking aspects of all the swine flu fallout. As I mentioned in previous posts, I was scheduled to depart this Friday for Beijing, China for an interim trip that is part of my MBA program with Thunderbird/ITESM (basically a combination of company visits + sightseeing). My fellow students and I were all getting a bit suspicious as flights to/from Mexico began getting the axe… Aeromexico’s direct Mexico City-to-Shanghai route was one of the first to go. Nearby Japan implemented a new requirement of visas + medical certificates for all Mexicans entering the country (where previously no visa was required).
On Saturday morning, the MBA program finally announced that the trips for Beijing, Shanghai, and Tokyo were all “postponed” (indefinitely at this point). Although I was obviously disappointed with this turn of events, I think it was definitely for the best, particularly given the news coming out of China over the last few days.
Most of you probably already heard about Friday’s quarantine imposed on the hotel in Hong Kong where a Mexican national was diagnosed with swine flu. While this seems a bit harsh for the ~200 guests & 100 staff members at the hotel, one can perhaps understand their reaction given the none-too-distant bird flu drama. However, China continued to ramp up its response into “bat-shit crazy” mode over the subsequent days.
Saturday morning, my hopeful Beijing trip-mates & I received an email from two of our classmates who had arrived in Beijing (via Los Angeles) early to do an organized tour before the MBA activities. Solely because they showed their Mexican passports, they were set apart to have their temperatures taken (mind you, after a 12 hour flight with no sleep) for a second time. (They had already passed through the infrared camera temperature detectors with no problem.) Despite having no symptoms, they were taken to a Chinese hospital waiting room filled with camera-toting reporters, then to an isolated, filthy hospital room, and then to an old, crappy hotel that had been closed down for their arrival (and not in a good, “we’re expecting royalty” kind of way). They were told that the Chinese authorities wanted them isolated for 7 days.
I had not heard an update on Yamil and Claudia’s status until today, when I saw this article in Reforma. The article elaborates on some additional details (for non-Spanish speakers, I recommend www.freetranslation.com if you want to translate the whole thing) including:
- they were told they had to either return to Mexico or spend 7 days in the hospital
- the Chinese authorities at the airport refused their requests for a doctor to examine them at the airport, for a translator, and for a call to the Mexican Embassy
- they did not want to leave the airport, but were given the “option” of either going to the hospital, or being put in a room full of sick people with all kinds of illnesses
- the Chinese authorities promised a “quick test” at the hospital, but instead Yamil & Claudia were transferred to the infectious disease unit for 12 hours
- as of TODAY (Tuesday), they + 8 other Mexicans are still unable to leave the crappy hotel, which is being guarded by police.
If the “Gou Men Hotel” mentioned in the article is the same as the “Guomen Hotel” I found listed in Beijing on Trip Advisor, the one scathing review listed seems to confirm Yamil’s initial comments of “less than desirable” conditions…
Anyway, the thought of “What would happen if I got sick during the trip? Would I be able to get out of China?” certainly had crossed my mind as a concern as the swine flu frenzy built up… but certainly not the thought of “Maybe I could be quarantined for no reason at all.” The other commentary I have heard was that the Chinese authorities were giving “special treatment” to all Mexican nationals, including Mexican nationals who had not been in Mexico for months. No special screenings however for other-country passport holders who had just come from Mexico, nor citizens of other countries with swine flu cases. Which all makes total sense. To that end check out this Reuters article regarding the rapidly deteriorating China/Mexico relationship. Of course China has denied any discrimination towards Mexicans saying its decisions are solely medically based (here it is straight from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)… you be the judge.
China also made the bold move of sending an airplane today to retrieve nearly 100 Chinese citizens from Mexico City & Tijuana. (Since clearly making them fly on a Mexican airline would be tantamount to a death sentence???) To be fair, Mexico also sent a plane to Shanghai today to retrieve Mexicans, but that was largely driven by them being quarantined for no reason!!!
Well, more to come on the Mexico/China flu battle. Please send Yamil & Claudia your positive, H1N1 flu-free thoughts & hopes that they manage to escape this horrible quarantine and actually enjoy some of their trip to China, though I’m not sure that will be possible at this point…
In other news, Mexico City is making progress with movie theatres opening tomorrow as well as restaurants (this article in English), despite some confusion over places that serve alcohol possibly not being allowed to open. Additionally, high schools & universities will open on Thursday, and elementary school on May 11th. Let’s hope things keep moving in the right direction!! Now off to bed to dream about my next michelada on the patio of a bar in Polanco…
UPDATE: Yamil & Claudia made it back alive & well yesterday (Wednesday May 6) on the special flight sent over by the Mexican government. They informed me they are recuperating rapidly! Welcome back!!!