Healthy Canadians still kept in isolation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2009, 12:00am

About two dozen students from a Canadian university remained in isolation in a hotel in Changchun , Jilin province , yesterday despite having no apparent connection to the swine flu outbreak.

The Canadian embassy in Beijing said it was 'seeking clarification' about the reasons for the quarantine.

The 25 University of Montreal students and one instructor - 22 Canadian citizens and four from other countries - arrived in Beijing on Saturday but were not stopped at customs.

On arrival at Changchun airport they were placed in quarantine, scheduled to last for seven days. Other passengers were not affected.

None of the students had flu symptoms at the time and none had developed them since, a Canadian embassy spokesman said.

Canada has reported 140 confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu virus, making it the third most affected country after Mexico and the United States.

Only three have been in Quebec, where the students travelled from.

At least 13 flights from Canada have arrived at mainland airports since Saturday, but there have been no reports of other passengers being similarly quarantined. The US embassy said yesterday that four American citizens had been quarantined on the mainland, but that two had already been released.

The Canadian students had come for a 10-week language course at Northeast Normal University.

They were initially isolated in a university dormitory but are now housed in a small hotel on the outskirts of the city.

Canadian media reports and newswires said the students were in comfortable surroundings but were bored. One of the students said the quarantine was a farce. 'They brought us to this hotel where we can access the yard, play ping pong, pool, things like that. It's really not that bad,' Martin Leroy Deslauriers said.

'And they have given us some beers, so that really helps.'

The spokesman for the Canadian embassy said staff had been in contact with the students and had offered to help them.

'We have sought clarification for the reasons for this quarantine. That is all I can say at the moment,' he said.

The Canadian ambassador visited them yesterday but was only allowed to stay for five minutes.

Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon will be visiting Beijing from Saturday. The quarantine of the students is expected to heighten tensions between the two countries. Canada is already protesting at a Chinese ban on Canadian pork imports.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ma Zhaoxu defended the local health authority's actions, which he said had been done to 'protect public health'.

'The overseas students currently have normal temperatures, are healthy and in good condition.'