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Expert: China's quarantine of virus suspects in line with law
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A leading law expert in China said Wednesday that the government's measures to prevent an outbreak of influenza A/H1N1 were in line with the country's laws.

Administrative law expert Ma Huaide, a professor and vice president of the China University of Political Science and Law, told Xinhua that the laws allow administrative authorities to quarantine those who have, or were suspected to have, highly infectious viruses.

Ma was interviewed hours after a Mexican jet flew scores of its nationals home from cities across China early Wednesday, after they were quarantined for fear of the A/H1N1 virus in China.

The measures triggered Mexican claims of discrimination, although China took the position that this was a case equivalent to the country's Class A, or most dangerous, infectious diseases, such as plague and cholera.

"The quarantine and other disease prevention measures taken by China on the Mexican crew and passengers, though strict, are totally in accordance with the laws," said Ma.

China learned from its experience during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, Ma said.

"The country has improved its legal system to deal with such public health emergencies," he said. "The system has provided a legal basis for the government to carry out its disease prevention measures."

Under the Law on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, medical authorities are entitled to isolate patients who have contracted Class A infectious diseases and disease carriers for treatment, and to treat suspected patients individually in isolation at designated places until a definite diagnosis is made.

Those in close contact with patients, disease carriers or suspected patients should be kept under medical observation at designated places, it stipulates.

The Border Quarantine Law also empowered border inspection authorities to quarantine people coming from countries where infectious diseases were epidemic, Ma added.

"Both laws apply to foreigners while they are in Chinese territory ... it is absolutely legal for Chinese health authorities to put the Mexican crew and passengers into quarantine," Ma said.

Ma stressed that during an epidemic, the government had even greater rights.

Under the Emergency Regulations on Public Health Contingencies and Measures for the Prevention issued by the State Council, or the cabinet, in 2003 following the outbreak of SARS, authorities could even force patients into quarantine, seal off workplaces and schools and summarily incinerate or entomb the bodies of deceased patients, to prevent an epidemic from spreading.

The A/H1N1 virus is confirmed to be responsible for at least 29 deaths in Mexico and two in the United States, and the World Health Organization has counted 1,490 people infected around the globe so far.

(Xinhua News Agency May 6, 2009)

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