According to Rick LaPlante, his wife and daughter were the victims of China's efforts to keep the current H1N1 flu pandemic at bay. Government policy is to screen everybody arriving by air into China for fever before they are allowed into the …
A Powell girl and her mother discovered last week that you don't actually have to catch the flu to suffer from it. Emily, who will be a freshman at Powell High School next fall, and her mother, Judith, flew to China last week on what was to be a two-week tour of the Asian giant. But they ended up spending six days of their vacation confined to a small hotel room in quarantine.
According to Rick LaPlante, his wife and daughter were the victims of China's efforts to keep the current H1N1 flu pandemic at bay. Government policy is to screen everybody arriving by air into China for fever before they are allowed into the country.
“If you have a fever, you don't get off the plane,” LaPlante said.
In the case of the LaPlantes, though, everyone on the plane passed the test, and Emily and her mom spent their first day in China exploring the city of Shanghai.
Things changed that evening when their tour operator received a call ordering them back to their hotel. After arrival, one of their fellow passengers had become ill and tested positive for the H1N1 virus. Chinese policy dictated that everyone sitting in the same row as the ill passenger, along with those sitting in the three rows in front and three rows behind him be quarantined for seven days before being allowed to continue.
Unfortunately for the LaPlantes, they were in those rows, but since they already had been in the country for a day, they would have to spend only six days in isolation.
That was bad enough.
“It was a nightmare,” said Rick LaPlante. “Nobody spoke English, and it was the middle of the night. They took them out the back door to an ambulance and took them to a one-star hotel near the airport.”
The two were placed in a room where they would have to stay for six days. They weren't allowed to leave the room.
“They would bring them food and thermometers to take their temperatures,” Rick said.
So there they sat for six days. Rick was able to contact some individuals he had once worked with in Shanghai who were able to deliver “care packages,” and they were able to communicate through Emily's laptop because the hotel had Internet access. They had television, but in Chinese, and all of the Web sites providing movies or other entertainment from the United States were blocked.
Still, it could have been worse. Chinese policy required that only one person be in a room, and it required intervention from the U.S. consulate to allow the LaPlantes to stay together. Had either one of them become ill, she would have been taken to a public health hospital for further isolation, even though there are better-equipped hospitals available. Furthermore, Emily, because she celebrated her 14th birthday during their quarantine, would have gone to an adult hospital.
“I told her, ‘just be glad you didn't get sick,'” Rick said.
Rick said the Chinese government issued rosy statements about everyone being fine and having fun, but the reality was it was “a very,very unpleasant six days, with bad food in a small room.”
The passenger who became ill did have a confirmed case of the flu, according to Rick, but no one else became ill.
He added that the Chinese policy of quarantining the three rows ahead and behind the ill passenger doesn't make sense. The ill person was sitting in the window seat on the right side of the 747 jet, while Emily and Judith were on the opposite side, 10 seats and two aisles away.
“They were farther away from the sick person than a lot of other people who weren't quarantined,” he said.
He said the U.S. has launched a formal complaint about the policy to the Chinese government.
The LaPlantes finally were released Tuesday morning at 4 a.m. Powell time, exactly seven days after their plane had landed, and flew on to Beijing, where they would spend the last three days of the trip and visit the Great Wall.
But the middle part of their trip, which included a stop at Xi'an, the site where a buried army of terra cotta soldiers was discovered by archaeologists in the 1970s — something Emily was looking forward to seeing — was lost.
Emily and Judith are scheduled to arrive home Friday.
“They're much better people than I am,” Rick said. “I'd be ready to come home on the next plane.”