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Mexico lashes out against Chinese quarantine

/ Source: The Associated Press

Mexican officials angry about China's decision to quarantine more than 70 Mexicans over swine flu fears sent a plane Monday to the communist country to bring its citizens back home. China sent its own plane to retrieve Chinese nationals stranded in Mexico.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon complained of a backlash against Mexicans abroad, and sent the chartered plane on Monday morning to fly to several cities and pick up Mexicans who wanted to leave China. In one case, the Mexican ambassador said, a family with three small children were rousted from their hotel before dawn and taken to a hospital.

"I think it's unfair that because we have been honest and transparent with the world some countries and places are taking repressive and discriminatory measures because of ignorance and disinformation," Calderon said.

China's Foreign Ministry denied Mexicans were singled out.

Late Monday, China sent a chartered flight to Mexico City to pick up 200 stranded Chinese nationals, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The flight was expected to return Wednesday morning, the report said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry added that it hoped Mexico would "address the issue in an objective and calm manner." China had earlier canceled the only direct flights between China and Mexico, a twice weekly service by Aeromexico.

"This is purely a question of health inspection and quarantine," ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement.

A group of 25 Canadian university students and a professor also have been quarantined at a hotel in China since the weekend over swine flu fears. Canada has 103 confirmed cases of swine flu. The group does not have any flu symptoms, University of Montreal spokeswoman Sophie Langlois said Monday.

China had quarantined 71 Mexicans at hospitals and hotels, Mexico's Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinoza said. None of the travelers in isolation has swine flu symptoms and most had no contact with infected people or places, Mexico's ambassador, Jorge Guajardo.

None of those in isolation had symptoms and most had no contact with infected persons or places, he said.

In Hong Kong, 350 people remained isolated in a hotel Monday after a Mexican traveler there was determined to have swine flu.

Mexico also criticized Argentina, Peru and Cuba for banning flights. Argentina sent a chartered plan to Mexico to collect Argentines wanting to return home, and set up a field hospital at its airport in Buenos Aires to handle incoming passengers with symptoms.

World Health Organization flu chief Keiji Fukuda said quarantines were a "long-established principle" that makes sense in the early phases of an outbreak, but not once a full pandemic is under way.

"As we get later on into Phase 6 (the highest pandemic alert level) then these sorts of measures will become less useful because there will just be more infections around and you can't quarantine everyone in the world," he said.

China's authoritarian government doesn't stand on niceties when shifting into crisis mode, locking down much of the country during last summer's Beijing Olympics and sealing off Tibetan areas following anti-government protests last year.

Its responses can often be extreme, shifting from neglectful to over-the-top. During the 2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, officials went from denying they had a problem to shutting down much of the country and quarantining scores of people virtually overnight.