Mexico reacts angrily to China flu quarantine

MEXICO CITY Sat May 2, 2009 5:13pm EDT

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico accused China on Saturday of imposing a discriminatory quarantine in a Hong Kong hotel where a Mexican fell ill with the new swine flu virus, and it advised its citizens to stay away from the Asian nation.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa also condemned China and four Latin American countries for restricting flights from Mexico, the epicenter of an H1N1 flu outbreak that the World Health Organization fears may become a global pandemic.

At a news conference, Espinosa criticized authorities in Hong Kong for sealing off the Metropark Hotel on Friday after test results showed a 25-year-old Mexican man was infected with the virus.

About 200 guests and 100 staff were ordered confined in the hotel for seven days.

"We are especially worried about China, where Mexican citizens showing no signs at all of being ill, have been isolated, under unacceptable conditions," Espinosa said.

It was unclear how many of the hotel guests were Mexican.

Mexico says that its citizens in different parts of China have faced discrimination after being suspected of carrying swine flu.

"These are discriminatory measures, without foundation ... The Foreign Ministry recommends avoiding traveling to China until these measures are corrected," Espinosa said.

She also condemned China as well as Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Cuba for suspending flights from Mexico due to the flu outbreak. Mexico traditionally has had good relations with all of those nations.

Swine flu has spread to at least 17 countries, although Mexico accounts for the biggest number of deaths. Mexican authorities, however, say they hope the outbreak is stabilizing and have cut back the suspected death toll to up to 101 from a previous 176.

The infection in Hong Kong, the first case in Asia, and the decision to impose the quarantine underscored China's concerns about the new flu. Hong Kong was badly hit by the SARS virus in 2003 and has had many episodes of H5N1 bird flu.

Espinosa's criticism of China followed an announcement on Friday by the Chinese ambassador in Mexico that his country had sent $3 million in medical supplies to the Latin American country to help fight the epidemic.

"International cooperation is indispensable," Espinosa said. She thanked countries who had sent aid but said Mexico would protest any discriminatory measures against its citizens arising from the flu alert.

(Reporting by Adriana Barrera, Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Paul Simao)

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