GUANGZHOU - A hotel in this southern port city is a key part of China’s largely unreported measures to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from reaching its shores and spreading.
The Hotel Canton is like many others in Guangzhou, bustling with business conferences as well as Chinese and international customers. But what few know is that it is also being used as a base for loose quarantine of recently arrived travelers from Ebola-hit countries in Africa.
Sources tell VOA that more than 90 people from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are currently staying at the hotel. Along with public security officers and doctors, they occupy up to five floors of the state-owned business.
All of those being monitored for the virus stay at the hotel free of charge and can freely travel in the city in exchange for carrying a GPS-equipped mobile phone and submitting to twice-daily health checks.
Ebola hard landing
Thousands of Africans travel to China every month and, according to official statistics, around 150 travelers from Ebola-hit countries arrive in Guangzhou each day. The city has the largest community of Africans in Asia.
For most West Africans, the full extent of China’s Ebola prevention measures do not become clear until after their plane touches down.
Upon arrival, travelers from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are asked to disembark from the plane first and submit to a screening from health officials, who check their temperature and record their contact information.
Each person receives a mobile phone with GPS tracking. Each is told to submit to medical supervision for 21 days, recording body temperature both evening and night.
Africans who have residency in China can return to their homes. But those who are merely visiting say they were not given any instructions on where to stay. Some say they wandered the city for hours to try to find a hotel that would take them before learning that the Hotel Canton was the only option.
It is unclear why they were not told where they had to stay. Repeated attempts to ask relevant health officials to comment on the government’s policies in Guangzhou went unanswered.
Mohammed, a trader from Sierra Leone, said it wasn’t until after he visited several hotels that someone told him were to go. Others said they learned about the Hotel Canton from friends.
"When I came first I was so frustrated because the place I usually stay, when I produced my passport, they said, ‘No, I am sorry, we can’t allow you' " to stay, Mohammed said.
"I was so tired," he said. "I took about a 13-hour flight from Africa to here. I want to ease myself, I want to take a bath, but I can’t."
According to Chinese media reports, more than 40 Africans in Guangdong have been suspected of carrying the disease. But none has been diagnosed with Ebola.
Those in the Hotel Canton who spoke to VOA said they appreciate having a place to stay for free, but some voiced concerns.
A trader from the Democratic Republic of Congo said hotel staff members change the towels but not the bed sheets. She said she assumes the hotel is burning the linens.
After each guest leaves, sources say the hotel throws away the mattresses, even though no guest so far has been diagnosed with Ebola.
"The disease is in Africa, so they have to take these measures, but they should not treat people like dogs,” she said, adding that they are not sick.
"They come to check us every morning and every evening. They check our temperature and see if we have a cough. Since we’ve been here, no one has shown signs of the disease. But they don’t trust us. We’re not told anything."
However, it is not just traders and travelers that feel stuck in a difficult situation. Sources tell VOA that the hotel has little choice but to provide rooms for free because the facility is state-owned.
In China, the government’s public Ebola prevention efforts mainly have focused on African arrivals from the three main affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – plus the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Little has been said, however, about the effort to monitor the more than 1,000 Chinese medical workers, investors and other foreigners who have traveled to the affected countries since the outbreak began.
African visitors in Guangzhou, like trader Musa, say the situation amounts to a double standard.
"All the people from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone – all those people who have documents from those countries are perceived to have Ebola as soon as they present their documents," he said. "But there are also foreigners who have been to those countries but are not considered to have Ebola."
Musa says everyone at risk of carrying the infection should be treated equally.