China / Society

Rumors scarier than virus, says worker

By XU JINGXI in Huizhou, Guangdong ( Updated: 2015-06-12 13:53

Infectious diseases are not scary but rumors are, according to a 25-year-old receptionist who was quarantined for 14 days at the hotel in Huizhou, Guangdong province, where the first MERS patient in China checked in.

The woman, surnamed He, looked up MERS online after health authorities arrived at the Kande International Hotel on May 27 to take the South Korean man to a hospital. They disinfected the air conditioning system and all the areas in the hotel where he had been.

"I learned that MERS is not as highly contagious as SARS, so I was not that anxious about being sent to my dorm for quarantine the next day," He said.

"But I was upset when a friend told me that her friend had stopped her from coming to the hotel to deliver some fruit for me by asking an ignorant question, 'Don't you know you will die if you go to the place where your friend who may have been infected with MERS is?' "

He and seven colleagues spent the two weeks enduring a boring routine. They had breakfast at 8:30 am, went to bed before 11 pm and had their temperature taken three times a day.

Meals were delivered to their rooms on the fifth floor of the dorm building. The long, narrow corridor was the only place where they could take a walk outside their rooms.

To fill in the free time, they watched TV and videos on their computers, played cards or chatted.

Quarantine inspectors came to collect blood samples and throat and nasal swabs to test for the virus twice during the two-week stay. He and her colleagues were able to consult a psychological counselor on WeChat.

A 28-year-old porter surnamed Yang is thought to have spent the most time with the MERS patient, since he accompanied him from the lobby to his room.

"I was worried at first, but I gradually felt at ease because I didn't feel uncomfortable and the frequent health checks did not find any abnormalities," Yang said.

"However, I kept the quarantine secret from my parents, and I won't tell them even though I'm now out safe and sound. I don't want them to be worried."

The eight were released from quarantine on Wednesday, but a colleague, Korean interpreter Jin Xiongjie, is still assisting medical staff at the hospital.

Jin helped medical workers to persuade the South Korean to put on protective clothing and go to the hospital for treatment in an isolation unit, and has not returned home since then. Jin's wife is nearly nine months' pregnant.

The hotel cooperated closely with the health authorities, according to Xu Angao, head of the Huizhou bureau of health and family planning.

Dong Chengde, general manager of the five-star property, said: "It shows our hotel's strong sense of social responsibility, which helps our reputation. However, we suffered an economic loss of about 6 million yuan ($966,000) with the occupancy rate slumping from 70 percent to 10 percent.

"Our hotel has been thoroughly disinfected and we hope that the government's announcements and media reports can dispel the public's worries."

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