Quarantined students, teacher target of ill will

by Natsuko Fukue

Three high school students and a teacher from Osaka who were the first people in Japan confirmed to have the new flu have become the target of malicious phone calls and e-mails, local board of education and municipal officials said Friday.

The four arrived at Narita airport from Canada via the United States on May 8 aboard a Northwest Airlines flight.

On Friday, all but one of a group of 48 passengers and crew, including 32 high school students who were on the same flight and have been quarantined at a hotel in Narita, were discharged, the health ministry said.

The remaining person will remain at the hotel because of being together with one of the four H1N1 patients just before symptoms developed.

The municipal government of Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, where the students’ schools are located, has received more than 50 calls criticizing the patients.

“A few people called us to express their sympathy for the students, but the majority of the calls were spiteful,” said a spokesman in the city’s crisis-management division, adding that many were critical of the patients for not wearing protective masks during their stay in Canada.

Osaka Prefecture has set up a support team to secure a route for the students to return home safely and to provide emotional comfort, a spokesman of the high school division of the board of education told The Japan Times.

“One of the schools has been receiving 20 to 30 calls of complaint a day,” the spokesman said, noting some of the comments were too horrible to repeat.

“Many people (who called the schools) criticized the students and teacher without really understanding their situation,” he said.

The public has been bombarded with TV programs urging them to wear masks and with scenes of quarantine officials in heavy protective gear at airports boarding aircraft arriving from countries hit by the H1N1 virus.

Jo-Yum Tse, a 31-year-old teacher, was quarantined in the Metropark Hotel for a week from May 1 when he visited friends in Hong Kong. Tse said he met with no public hostility. “All the teachers and students at my school were very happy to see me and kept asking questions about the quarantine, but no one was scared to be near me,” he said.

Tse said people at the hotel were allowed access to the lobby, and were able to request things such as drawing paper or portable game consoles to pass the time.

In Japan, those under quarantine are provided a TV and newspapers, but are asked to remain in their room as much as possible and keep a 2-meter distance from others even during meals, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

According to Tse, the experience with SARS probably helped make people in Hong Kong react calmly to the arrival of the new flu.

“Everyone in Hong Kong knew that those inside the hotel were healthy and they also believe that good hygiene and being cautious will prevent the flu from spreading,” he said.

He added that his time in quarantine was quite positive although some tourists were stressed because their plans were canceled.

“Some of the meetings with government officials got heated because people couldn’t get answers,” he said, noting foreign tourists were concerned about the uncertainty of their plane tickets and visas.

Isolation continues

Kyodo News

Three of the four patients who have contracted the new swine flu in Japan need to stay longer than initially scheduled at a hospital in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, because they may still have the virus, the health minister said Friday.