Limit spread of virus, WHO urges Beijing
The World Health Organisation has called for Beijing to focus on limiting the spread of human swine flu rather than trying to stop the virus at the country's borders.
The virus' incubation period and the mildness of its symptoms had made it very difficult to detect infected people at points of entry, the UN body said.
Neither of the confirmed cases on the mainland - a 30-year-old man who returned to Sichuan from the University of Missouri in the United States and a 19-year-old man who returned from Canada to Jinan, Shandong - showed any flu symptoms when they entered China. They alerted the health authorities only after feeling unwell having spent time in the country. That left hundreds of people who had been in close contact with them requiring quarantine.
Health authorities on the mainland have been emphasising that the cases were imported and that the top priority in curbing the spread of the disease is to strengthen control of inspection and quarantine at points of entry.
'The focus now should be on trying to limit the virus' spread and to mitigate its impact within the country,' Vivian Tan, communications officer with WHO China, said. The organisation thinks the spread of the virus cannot be stopped but that it can be slowed by rapid identification of cases and providing patients with appropriate medical care. It was also advising Beijing to 'maintain intensive surveillance systems and remain vigilant at all times for signs of a fresh outbreak', Ms Tan said.
'To do this, health workers at all levels must be informed on what symptoms to look out for and to report cases immediately. They must also be equipped with the skills and resources to respond effectively.'
The WHO said its statement was general and did not specifically address the case of the Shandong patient. The public has raised questions over how the case was handled.
Jinan health authorities came under fire for responding slowly and not placing the people who travelled in the same carriage as the virus carrier on a Beijing-Jinan train under quarantine or even requiring them to leave contact information. The patient called the authorities from the train to report his symptoms.
Health authorities are now waiting for passengers to voluntarily contact them so that they can be put under medical observation. Unlike air travel, there is no record of who catches a train, and thus no means to trace the travellers.