Mexico reacts angrily to China flu measures

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico on Saturday accused Beijing of discrimination against its citizens and advised them to avoid China after a Hong Kong hotel was sealed off following confirmation a Mexican guest had the new flu virus.

Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa addresses the media in Mexico City May 2, 2009. REUTERS/Jorge Dan

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 quarantining the Metropark Hotel on Friday after test results showed the 25-year-old Mexican guest 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.

Hong Kong is under Chinese control but has its own government.

Mexico says its citizens in different parts of China have faced discrimination after being suspected of carrying the 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 ties with all of those nations.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry had no immediate response to Espinosa’s criticism.

The Mexican man arrived in Hong Kong from Mexico on Thursday following a stopover in Shanghai.

Passengers who caught the same flights to Shanghai and onward as the Mexican remain isolated and under medical observation in Beijing, Shanghai and other mainland Chinese cities, the Xinhua news agency reported late on Saturday.

China Southern Airlines will send a charter plane to Mexico on Sunday to pick up about 120 Chinese passengers stranded after regular direct flights were suspended, Xinhua reported.

The new flu has been found in 18 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 and the decision to impose the hotel quarantine underscored the concerns of the authorities there 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; Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Paul Simao and Dean Yates