26 June 2009

Swine Flu

I was in Korea a few weeks ago and traveling around Asia definitely makes you realize how seriously they are taking the whole swine flu thing. While it seems mostly out of the attention of American media that I read, it is still on people’s minds here. A headline updating the city’s swine flu count, or some other news about swine flue, is on the front page of the Shanghai Daily almost every day here.

I arrived in Busan, a southern port city in Korea, on June 1 and we were let off the plane like normal. But going through customs everybody’s temperature was checked by a nurse, and everyone working in the airport was wearing a protective mask. This wasn’t a big deal but just meant a longer line at immigration.

The real surprise was on returning to China. Our plane did not taxi to a gate. Instead we pulled off to a corner of the runway. I could see the airport fence out of the window. It seemed like we were as far away from the terminal as possible. There was no announcement about what was going on, so people were starting to get up even though the crew members were telling everyone to stay seated. After a few minutes, these guys in hazmat suits boarded the plane.

Everyone on the airplane started talking loudly and wondering what was going on. The pilot came on the speaker and told everybody to stay seated and take off hats. Lots of people (like me) pulled out their camera phones, amused by the novelty and the “Outbreak” aspect of the whole thing. They came down the aisle and pointed some type of laser thermometer at every passenger. About 10% of people had high readings, and those people were tested with a normal thermometer. Luckily they were cleared and our plane was swine flu free, so we were able to go to the gate and go through immigration as normal.

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