The global outbreak of the H1N1 "swine flu" virus has spread to nearly 10,000 people in 40 countries, almost none of whom have been in China. At the time of writing, China has only three confirmed cases of swine flu, far fewer than Japan, which saw its patient count climb past 120 from four over the course of a weekend.
That the mainland has thus far remained largely unaffected by the disease is a product of both fortune and design.
As the first cases of swine flu were being reported in Mexico, China sought to assure both the world and its citizens that it had learned the lessons of the past. The government, still smarting from the criticism it received for attempting to cover up the 2003 outbreak of SARS, took early measures against the spread of the H1N1 virus.
The General Administration of Quality, Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine put an immediate ban on hog and pork products from Mexico and the American states of Texas, California and Kansas. President Hu Jintao, in a marked departure from the secrecy that characterized China’s response to SARS, took to the national airwaves to instruct all levels of government to take preventive measures against the disease. The country established a US$733 million fund to combat swine flu and Premier Wen Jiabao ordered mainland health authorities to work closely with their international counterparts.
As part of efforts to create an early reporting system for the disease, China also stepped up efforts to monitor people arriving from affected areas. The reporting system seemed to yield the intended result, though in some cases China was perceived to have been overzealous in its attempts to isolate foreigners visiting the country from flu-affected areas.
Most notably, China drew criticism from the Mexican government for what its foreign minister called the "discriminatory and ungrounded" quarantining of more than 70 Mexican nationals. The detained were all travelers aboard an AeroMéxico flight to Shanghai. One of the passengers, a 25-year-old man, became ill with the H1N1 virus in Hong Kong, leading the Chinese government to round up all passengers on the flight for isolation. The Mexican and Chinese government later agreed to repatriate the Mexicans by charter flights.
The Canadian government also voiced concerns regarding China’s treatment of its citizens after 22 University of Montreal students were placed in isolation upon arrival in Changchun, Jilin province. None had shown flu symptoms.
A trade spat emerged with Canada when China banned its hog and pork products after the infection of a herd of pigs in the province of Alberta. Canada’s Agricultural Minister said the ban was "outside of sound science," and threatened to file a complaint with the WTO should China refuse to lift the ban.