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Quarantined Mexicans depart city to begin trip back home

A CHARTERED aircraft carrying dozens of Mexicans who were quarantined in Shanghai over swine flu fears took off yesterday afternoon from Pudong International Airport on a mission to repatriate the travelers.

The plane was also scheduled to stop in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong to pick up other Mexicans who had been quarantined and anyone else who wished to head back home.

The flight came after Mexico accused China of discriminating against its citizens by imposing the quarantines, and China insisted that it was simply taking proper precautions under the threat of a disease that has sickened more than 1,400 people and killed at least 30.

The 77 Mexicans who boarded in Shanghai included 43 passengers and crew who were on Aeromexico flight AM098 from Mexico City to Shanghai last Thursday. They were quarantined in Shanghai and nearby cities after a 25-year-old Mexican passenger who had gone on to Hong Kong was confirmed to have swine flu a day later.

He was listed last night in stable condition in a hospital in Hong Kong.

No one else who was on that flight or on the later flight that took the Mexican from Shanghai to Hong Kong has shown any signs of illness.

In addition to the 43 who had been quarantined, 34 Mexicans who stayed in Shanghai and nearby areas but were not on last week's flight decided to take the charter back home.

It wasn't clear why they chose to leave, although a friend of one said the departing Mexican was worried about his relatives back home.

Six Mexicans who were passengers on the AM098 flight decided to stay in Shanghai and remained in quarantine at a hotel in Shanghai's Nanhui District.

The 28 non-Mexican passengers on the flight, including many Chinese, were in the same hotel under quarantine.

Eighty-three local residents who had been in close contact with those travelers have been confined to their homes in the city for observation. Everyone placed under quarantine or home observation will be released tomorrow if they continue to remain in good health.

Also under quarantine are 23 Shanghai residents who were on the flight that carried the infected Mexican man to Hong Kong and who were brought back here.

Local health authorities sent a fleet of 27 ambulances to take the Mexicans to the Pudong airport yesterday. A special channel was opened to avoid possible contact with other people in the terminal. None of the crew left the plane. But a Pudong airport worker who got on the aircraft without protective gear was sent for quarantine.

"Waste on the airplane was also not processed in the city," said Xu Chaozhe, vice director of the city entry-exit quarantine bureau.

Meanwhile, a China Southern Airlines charter flight arrived in Mexico yesterday to bring home stranded Chinese tourists. After picking up travelers in Mexico City, the flight was supposed to make a stop in Tijuana, in northwest Mexico, for more passengers.

But it was diverted to Los Angeles, California, because of heavy fog, and it was not known last night when the flight would arrive in Shanghai.

Local health officials said everyone on the flight will be quarantined for seven days after arriving in Shanghai, even if they show no flu symptoms.


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