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Aussies settle in for an enforced city stopover

A week in Shanghai was not on the holiday itinerary of two Australians who boarded China Airlines flight 178 from Melbourne to Beijing last Sunday.

Ken Mcalpine, 52, a union official from Melbourne, and Michael Scott, 48, a Murdoch University software developer from Perth, had planned a five-week vacation in the United Kingdom with a two-day stop in Beijing on the outward journey and another in China's capital on the way home.

But shortly after take-off from Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport, the cabin staff started testing all the passengers with a temperature gun and a male traveler sitting near them registered above normal.

And that was the start of their unexpected Shanghai sojourn, sequestered in separate rooms in quarantine for swine flu in Motel 168 in the city's Jinling Road E.

The flight was scheduled for a stop-over in Shanghai and it was here that medical staff in protective suits and masks boarded the plane, Scott recalled from the isolation of his hotel room yesterday.

"The front two-thirds of the passengers were allowed to leave, but the back third - including us and the person with a fever - were kept in the aircraft," he said. ? ?

"After three hours without air-conditioning we were moved to buses and taken to a Motel 168 in Shanghai where our passports were taken."

About 80 passengers - the majority Chinese nationals, but about 15 foreigners, mostly Australian - were moved to quarantine, a good portion of them students who were studying in Australia, Scott said. ???

"They were very supportive of the Australian passengers, providing translations and cultural explanations," Scott said. ?

"We are very thankful for their assistance, particularly during the earlier part of this ordeal."

Scott and Mcalpine are able to communicate from their "quarantine" by phone and email with the outside world. Their families back home are concerned but "they know that while it is inconvenient, we are perfectly safe" and it is "necessary to ensure that no one will be carrying swine flu into the community."

"It is very boring to be stuck in a hotel room for seven days, but there is an army of hotel and medical staff supporting our needs," Scott said.

"We can ring an interpreter to make requests and twice a day the medical staff take our temperatures and ask how we are feeling.

"The staff are very friendly and we are being treated well. We are disappointed to lose one week of our holiday but understand that controlling the swine flu may save lives in China," he added.

The "basic but comfortable" hotel rooms were bare of any extras when people arrived but bar fridges were installed quickly afterwards.

"We were given masks but have not been required to wear them," Mcalpine said. "People spray the corridors with, I think, chlorine, each day and all the staff wear plastic suits, shoes, hoods and goggles.

"We felt particularly sorry for the men carrying the fridges to the rooms as they seemed very hot."

"We cannot leave our rooms, but we can call other guests on the phone and Michael and I can talk across the corridor," he said.

The sparse English language proficiency among the hotel staff has not presented any communication problems.

"We can call the special interpreter service if we want anything and the doctors speak fairly good English," Macalpine said.

The pair rate the attention of the Chinese authorities and medical staff as "pretty good."

"They are obviously doing their best to make our stay comfortable. The range of food has steadily improved and their room service is helpful," Macalpine said.

There appears to be no evidence in the pair's communications of them becoming "stir crazy."

"Let's just say that for the first day it was 'an experience' but after that it is pretty hard not being able to see Shanghai which everyone tells me is such a great city," Macalpine said.

"The bulk of the holiday was to be driving around the UK visiting historic sights," Scott said, but they were also looking forward to seeing Beijing.

The Aussies' quarantine is expected to finish on Sunday when they hope to resume their trip to London.


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