Compare and contrast: "quarantine" in the US and China

Below on the left, the image from the recent diary of a (perfectly healthy) AP correspondent who, with his wife, ended up in Chinese quarantine for a week, simply because their plane had stopped at a Mexican airport. Starting on the right, an account from a reader in the US who has an actual swine flu patient in her house. The eccentricities of each country's approach are on display here -- along with, as discussed earlier, the reasons why China's reaction might understandably differ from America's or Europe's. The reader begins:

Quarantine.jpg"In striking contrast to the story of quarantine in China, I am here in Illinois with a house guest with the swine flu, and only the vaguest instructions about avoiding spreading the infection.  The young woman came down with the flu Monday morning, after not feeling great on Sunday.  Since her health insurance is an HMO from another part of the country, it took several phone calls to insurance companies, doctors, etc., to get an appointment - not that the current round of health care reform is likely to address this ridiculous bureaucracy, but that's another topic.

"We got her in to see a doctor.  In the waiting room were large signs saying, if you have flu symptoms, take a mask (at the reception desk) and use the hand sanitizer -- a huge bottle on the reception desk.  One other miserable looking young person was there also wearing a mask.  Most of the rest of the people in the waiting room were elderly.

"Not a long wait, she was seen by the doctor, and yep, probably swine flu.  A prescription for five days of Tamiflu, a note of caution to cough into a tissue or sleeve, and use hand sanitizer. No need for the mask outside the waiting room.  A nose swab sample sent off to the state lab, wait 24 hours for a result.  If it is positive, she can't fly for seven days.  Should her boyfriend have preventative Tamiflu?  No, not necessary, no one in the household needs to be concerned unless there is someone with compromised health.

"That's it.  Today we got the word that it is indeed swine flu, and she has changed her plane reservation.  I debated whether I should go to work or not -- my husband is already at work out of town, potentially spreading the virus.  In the end, I went to work, with a supply of hand sanitizer.  I canceled a meeting I had scheduled with someone with compromised health.

"The patient is not feeling too bad - I would say it is like a normal seasonal respiratory flu.  Her temperature is down today, and she and her boyfriend (my son) went to the park briefly.  My husband, son and I are all still feeling fine.

"The irony is that our older son is heading to Mexico for the summer.  We've been fussing at him, worried that it wasn't safe.  He's been saying, you could get the swine flu there in Chicago.  He's coming home Saturday, and leaving Sunday for Mexico, and we are quarantining him at a friend's house so there is no chance he catches the swine flu and takes it to Mexico.  At least here we have Tamiflu easily available.

"So, no hazmat suits, no quarantine; leaving the doctor's office we waited for an elevator with no other passengers, lest we spread virus.  But no one told us to do so."

[An hour later]"Addendum: So my house guest with the swine flu just re-booked her ticket, since the doctor told her not to fly until Sunday.  American Airlines was very insistent that there was a $150 re-booking charge, swine flu or not.  She offered a doctor's certificate.  No, they have no way of receiving faxes, and they are not interested.  She asked for the manager.  No, the manager agreed, that's the policy, you re-book, you pay.  Finally, persistence won out, and she persuaded them to rebook without the fee; but a special manager is calling her tomorrow during regular working hours because they really are not authorized to do this re-booking without the fee, "we're breaking the rules."  
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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