My Experience in H1N1 Quarantine

This is a guest post by Brian Seyfried, a student at Chicago-Kent School of Law working this summer as an intern at our firm.

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I’m writing to share my experience being subject to the H1N1 quarantine when I flew from Chicago to Beijing last month.

When my 777 touched down at Beijing International Airport, workers dressed head-to-toe in white hazardous material suits boarded the plane. They aimed a futuristic temperature gun at each passenger’s forehead to take our temperatures, one by one. The scene could have been plagiarized from an Orson Welles novel. Three rows behind me, the workers suddenly stopped. My heart sank into my stomach and my mind began racing. Did a passenger have swine flu? Would we all be quarantined?

Then the white suits began moving forward again down the aisle. Just as I began to relax, one health worker called the others over to check a flight attendant. She registered a temperature, and the health workers immediately escorted her off the plane.

Again, I feared that I would be quarantined. Yet when I was allowed off the plane I sailed through the airport health inspection and customs with no problem.

After a pleasant weekend, on Monday I reported to the law firm for my first day of work. But at 10am the phone rang. It was an official from the neighborhood committee in charge of my apartment complex. According to the official, I needed to return to my apartment immediately and quarantine myself for seven days. I was told that if I needed any food or supplies, I could call the neighborhood committee, but under no circumstances was I permitted to continue to work or even leave the apartment. I instantly headed home. Back at the apartment, the official called again to see if I had a fever or other symptoms. When I said no, the official said she would be checking up on me twice a day for the next week.

The next day, I contacted the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to find out more information. According to the CDC, there was no record that the flight attendant (or anybody on my flight) had H1N1 so I wasn’t subject to quarantine. The CDC said I could go back to work.

Confused about the conflicting information I was being given, I scoured the internet for any Chinese government information about the quarantine rules. Finding nothing, and feeling fine, I finally decided to head out to a restaurant for a nice dinner and to go back to work the next day.

The neighborhood committee official called me at the office the next morning when they couldn’t find me at home. I told the official that according to the CDC I wasn’t under quarantine. The official then admitted that I wasn’t actually under mandatory quarantine as she had earlier implied but instead under “voluntary” quarantine. I appreciated her concern and hard work to prevent an epidemic but I was also frustrated that I hadn’t been told the whole truth from the start.

In the end, I realize that many others have been subjected to mandatory quarantine, so I can’t complain about my situation. This was an experience I’ll always remember. And I hope that my experience can serve as helpful guidance to others traveling to China.

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