Tibet on guard against flu epidemic as peak tourist season nears


LHASA – A month after it reopened to international tourists, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region is on guard against the deadly influenza A/H1N1 amid a daily influx of 900 overseas visitors, the regional government said.

Tibet’s two leading ports, Lhasa airport and Zham, a key land port along the China-Nepal border, began round-the-clock quarantine inspections and daily status reports last Tuesday, the regional Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau said Wednesday.

All other checkpoints have also stepped up disinfection and health checks for travelers, a bureau spokesman said.

The bureau installed X-ray machines and infrared thermometers at Zham and the Lhasa airport, he said.

Operators of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world’s highest rail route, have stationed emergency task forces in Xining, Golmud and Lhasa, consisting of health workers and disease control officials.

Tibet gets about 100 tour groups a day. With peak travel season approaching, tourist arrivals could rise by 20 percent a day.

The regional health department opened a 24-hour hotline. “Every prefecture, every city has worked out their own plans to tackle a potential outbreak,” said Tang Rongqun, a health official.

In case of an outbreak, all patients would be treated at Tibet’s No. 2 People’s Hospital in Lhasa and six local hospitals, she said. “We also encourage traditional Tibetan hospitals, research organizations and pharmacies to better exploit Tibetan herbs in the prevention and treatment of the A/H1N1 flu.”

Fukang Pharmacy in downtown Lhasa has seen a surge in the sales of over-the-counter drugs for cold and flu over the past week. “The SARS scare of 2003 taught us a lesson and we cannot afford to run out of stock this time,” said manager Liu Xiao. “In case of emergency, we’ll order more drugs to be flown in from Chengdu.”

No flu cases have been reported yet in the Chinese mainland.

The Ministry of Health said Wednesday quarantine would end Thursday for passengers from the same flight as a Mexican national who was later diagnosed with influenza A/H1N1 in Hong Kong.

The passengers, scattered among 18 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities including Beijing and Shanghai, would be free by 6 a.m. Thursday if local health authorities confirm they show no fever, acute respiratory symptoms, or other signs of influenza A/H1N1 infection.

None are from Tibet.