Americans Under Quarantine in China: 'We Are All Fine'

Two Americans tell us what it's like to live under quarantine in China.

May 6, 2009, 7:02 AM

BEIJING, May 6, 2009 — -- Neil Whitehead, an American citizen, and his wife, Rosy, have been living under quarantine since Saturday in their home in Shanghai, China, with their two children, ages 8 and 7.

Neil and his wife are teachers and have lived in Shanghai for seven years. They have been told they will be quarantined for a total of seven days.

Their ordeal began when Rosy's brother flew from Mexico City to Shanghai on the same flight as a 25-year-old Mexican man who was subsequently diagnosed with swine flu.

ABC News reached Neil Whitehead by telephone at his home in Shanghai. And we talked to another American, Daniel Lichty, 20, a student being held in a hospital in Beijing. We start with Neil Whithead.

ABC News: What was it like Saturday when the people showed up at your door?

Neil Whitehead:We were expecting it, because we read in the papers that they would be contacting people. So, we actually called them first, and they said they were sending people out immediately. They were dressed in biohazard suits, and I think it shocked the neighbors to see them dressed that way. Then they took our temperatures to see if everyone was OK.

ABC News: Is everyone OK?

Whitehead: Yes. We are all fine. They come twice a day to see if we are feeling OK. Now they only use face masks. They aren't in the white suits anymore. The quarantine is supposed to be over Thursday morning.

ABC News: How do you get groceries and things?

Whitehead: The neighbors call us before they go to the grocery store, and they pick up stuff if we need it, and they drop it in front of our door. We've been cooking a lot, and we order delivery. The management of the building we live in has been really great about accepting delivery for us and then leaving it in front of our door. We have had a lot of stuff left outside our door.

ABC News: What's the worst part?

Whitehead: It's dull hanging out at home all the time. Our kids' school sent some work home for the kids, so we are just sort of home-schooling them. And we play a lot of games. The hardest thing is for the kids to get exercise. They have been running around the house. But at least we have balconies, so we can get some fresh air.

ABC News: Do you understand why the Chinese are taking such harsh measures?

Whitehead: Yes, there is just so much nervousness about the swine flu spreading. We were here for SARS and for bird flu, and I think there are a couple of reasons they do it. They want to keep people safe, and it helps for the public to hear in the media that everyone who has been exposed is under quarantine.

ABC News: Has it been difficult?

Whitehead: It's certainly inconvenient for us, but we are just hanging out. The health inspectors have been really quiet and helpful about it. They just told us, "This is what needs to happen so everyone can be safe." So, we are just doing our part.

ABC News: Are your neighbors nervous?

Whitehead: They are pretty relaxed now. At first, they were surprised and worried when they saw the inspectors in the biohazard suits. That certainly gave them a sense of alarm. But when we told them we were OK, they were no longer nervous. The chance of transmission is low.

ABC News:You think the Chinese are doing a good job?

Whitehead:Yes, I mean, it's a public safety issue. And I think it keeps everyone from panicking, because they know they are quarantining people. When they came at first, they took my brother-in-law, who was on the same plane as the man who had swine flu, to a hotel. He was quarantined in another place. So, they are using strict measures. But we understand why.

An American College Student's First Visit to China, Spent Under Quarantine

On summer break from his studies at Wesleyan University in the United States, 20-year-old Daniel Lichty came to Beijing to visit his father, who works in China. After his flight landed Saturday, his temperature was checked at the airport, and he had a slightly high temperature. Since then, he has not been out of quarantine or seen his dad. He is being monitored at Ditan hospital in Beijing.

ABC News: How are you?

Daniel Lichty: Oh, it's pretty terrific. ... At no point was I feeling sick. They had temperature scans at the airport, and apparently mine came up slightly high.

I just lie in bed all day. My dad lives here for work, and he brought me some DVDs. I have my laptop, so I have been able to watch those. The most enjoyable part is playing charades with nurses, to try and figure out what they mean because we can't understand each other.

ABC News:: When is the quarantine finished?

Lichty: I would count seven days from the day I arrived. I was taken Saturday, so I should get out by Friday. (Chinese officials have said his quarantine could last until Monday.)

By the time I get out of quarantine, over half of my vacation time to spend with my dad will be gone, so that is upsetting. This is my first time in China. Before I make the decision to extend my vacation, I'd like to experience something other than quarantine.

I think it's good that they are prepared for an epidemic. But their approach may be a smidge overzealous. I don't have symptoms. I haven't had symptoms.